Whitbourn: Living Voices

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Whitbourn
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Son of God Mass; Requiem canticorum; A Brief Story of Peter Abelard; Living Voices; Winter’s Wait; All Shall be Amen and Alleluia; Give us the Wings of Faith; A Prayer from South Africa
PERFORMER: Jeremy Powell (soprano saxophone), Ken Cowan (organ), Ronn Carroll (reader), Jonathan Palmer Lakeland (piano), Jacob Ezzo (percussion); Westminster Williamson Voices/James Jordan
CATALOGUE NO: Naxos 8.572737

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Tonal, tuneful, technically accessible, harmonically palliative: James Whitbourn’s music ticks many of the boxes beloved by choral societies. His highly popular Son of God Mass, the longest piece here, uses incidental music from the eponymous BBC series as basic thematic material. It would arguably overdose on the spiritual feelgood factor were it not for the soulful acerbity of the obbligato soprano saxophone interpolations. These add edge and immediacy, and are superbly played by Jeremy Powell.

Powell also features in Requiem canticorum, a companion piece to the Mass, with which, stylistically, it dovetails neatly. Whitbourn’s music is again unrelievedly sweet and easy on the ear, though without strong melodic distinction. Of the half-dozen shorter pieces, Winter’s Wait (to a poem by the late Robert Tear) is particularly effective, with cleanly pitched close harmonies from the 40-voice choir, and an impressive unleashing of dynamics for the celebratory final verse.

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James Jordan directs the Princeton-based choir with grip and sensitivity; he’s notably successful in keeping the singers firmly focused throughout all the quiet, restrained music, where concentration and vocal support can so easily weaken. Whitbourn followers will find this CD self-recommending, especially as seven of the eight works are first recordings. Terry Blain