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Weir: Choral Music / Geoffrey Webber, Choir Of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge

Weir / Choir Of Gonville & Caius College Cambridge
Release Date: 02/14/2012 
Label:  Delphian   Catalog #: 34095  
Composer:  Judith Weir
Conductor:  Geoffrey Webber
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gonville and Caius College Choir Cambridge
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Purity and austerity which feels rather Calvinist yet is always approachable.

This disc contains all Judith Weir’s music for chorus, unaccompanied or with a single instrument. It ranges from her popular 1983 anthem, Ascending into Heaven, to her 2009 setting of Psalm 148, with its improbable but highly effective obbligato trombone. The Two Human Hymns, settings of 17th-century devotional poems by George Herbert and Henry King, are intended for a student choir.

Vertue, to more Herbert, is written for a professional consort, and little tree, settings of e.e. cummings, is designed for a New York children’s choir with marimba. All of it sounds characteristically fit for purpose. Furthermore, it carries off
Read more the trick of taking harmonies and textures from musical history – mediaeval organum, psalm chants, Purcell, even Victorian hymns – and making them sound new.

The freshness and precision of Weir’s writing is perfectly matched by the well tuned, clearly articulated singing of Geoffrey Webber’s Gonville & Caius Choir, one of Cambridge’s outstanding mixed college choirs. Nearby Jesus College Chapel provides an ideal acoustic for the beautifully judged recording, and its Kuhn organ offers Matthew Fletcher some pellucid colours for two modest, effective, solo organ pieces inspired by Weir’s native Scotland. Highly recommended.
Performance: 5 (out of 5); Sound: 5 (out of 5)

-- Anthony Burton, BBC Music Magazine

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Amazingly this is the first disc devoted entirely to Judith Weir's choral works. It contains all of her music for unaccompanied choir or with just one instrument. The music ranges from her first choral piece in 1983 to the most recent in 2009. It was recorded by the choir of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge under their director Geoffrey Webber; though it was actually recorded in the chapel of Jesus College, with its 2007 organ built by Orgelbau Kuhn of Switzerland.

Weir's setting of Psalm 148 was first performed in a concert including all the Psalms, celebrating the 800 th anniversary of the University of Cambridge in 2009. It is written for the rather unusual combination of choir and trombone, with the trombone providing a lively counterpoint to the choir rather than simply adding the bass notes. This results in some interesting textures. Though Weir's psalm is designed as a paean of praise, the work is thoughtful and not at all bumptious.

My Guardian Angel is a short, simple direct piece written in 1997 for the Spitalfields Festival. Except that with Weir, nothing is ever quite as simple as it appears. Vertue was also written for the same festival in 2005. It sets three poems of George Herbert. The composer wrote them in memory of a friend who was a supporter of the festival. Weir responds to Herbert’s poetry with a directness and subtle plainness that is almost severe. Even in the third movement, where the harmonic language becomes more anguished, there is still a directness of utterance.

Ascending into Heaven
is Weir's first major choral work. Dating from 1983, it sets a Latin text by Hildebert of Lavardin (1056-1133) (the English translation in the CD booklet is by Weir herself). The organ plays a large part, but it doesn't accompany rather than comment on and punctuate the choral parts. Weir uses some lovely high organ textures that certainly indicate the influence of Weir's teacher Messiaen. The work uses the contrasts between the organ and the simpler and more complex choral passages. The choral writing has real clarity and hints of plainchant, but firmly in the modern idiom. A feeling of rapture is suggestive of the music of Hildegard.

In little tree Weir sets the poetry of e.e.cummings (a poet that she seems to have returned to more than once). It comprises three short pieces for choir and marimba written originally for the Young People's Chorus of New York. Weir uses three-part chorus for upper voices, expanding into four parts for the final piece. The marimba forms an interesting adjunct to the textures, acting as continuo. There is a sense here of Weir matching the apparent simplicity of cummings' poems, when in fact neither of them is simple at all.

Her early, rather Messiaen-esqe organ piece, Wild Mossy Mountains was written for the Edinburgh-based organist Michael Bonaventure; the title comes from the text of a poem by Robert Burns.

Another e.e.cummings setting, a blue true dream of sky was written in honour of choral director and organist Philip Brunelle and first performed by his Plymouth Church Choir in Minneapolis. This is a melodically attractive piece with a rapturous solo soprano part accompanied by the choir.

Madrigal was commissioned by Kings College, Cambridge, in 2008 to celebrate the 60 th birthday of their then chief conductor, Stephen Cleobury who had himself commissioned Weir's Illuminare Jerusalem. It sets words from a Sardinian folk-tale based around some pseudo-medieval organum. There is a folk-like character to the setting, but mixed with something more complex.

Two Human Hymns were commissioned by the University of Aberdeen for the University's Quincentenary in 1995. These set George Herbert and another 17 th century poet, Henry King. In both pieces the choral part is lyrical with organ interruptions in the first and toccata-like episodes in the second.

The other commission from Kings College, Cambridge, Illuminare, Jerusalem was for the 1985 service of Nine Lessons and Carols. The text, rather than Latin, is an anonymous 15 th Century Scottish one. Weir's setting is rhythmically lively and with an interestingly dense harmonic texture.

Drop down ye heavens, from above was another Cambridge commission, for Trinity College choir, which was performed in 1983. The text, in English, comes from the Advent Prose in a lovely hymn-like setting.

Love, bade me welcome is a version of the first of the Two Human Hymns which Weir made two years after its original composition. It was made for a choir from Orkney, the Mayfield Singers.

Written in 1985, the final organ piece Ettrick Banks is based on the Scottish air of that name. This setting combines a flowing texture with denser harmonies.

In listening to these pieces I kept coming back to the athleticism, intensity and clarity of Weir's writing. There is often a purity and austerity to the line of her music which not for the first time feels rather Calvinist. These pieces are always approachable, but on first acquaintance you feel that you are missing something. That there is more underneath is evident from repeat hearings.

-- Robert Hugill, MusicWeb International


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Works on This Recording

1.
Wild Mossy Mountains by Judith Weir
Conductor:  Geoffrey Webber
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gonville and Caius College Choir Cambridge
Period: 20th Century 
2.
Illuminare, Jerusalem by Judith Weir
Conductor:  Geoffrey Webber
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gonville and Caius College Choir Cambridge
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1985; England 
3.
Human Hymns (2): Love bade me welcome by Judith Weir
Conductor:  Geoffrey Webber
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gonville and Caius College Choir Cambridge
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1995; England 
4.
Human Hymns (2): Like to the falling of a star by Judith Weir
Conductor:  Geoffrey Webber
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gonville and Caius College Choir Cambridge
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1995; England 
5.
Ettrick Banks by Judith Weir
Conductor:  Geoffrey Webber
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gonville and Caius College Choir Cambridge
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1985; England 
6.
Ascending into Heaven by Judith Weir
Conductor:  Geoffrey Webber
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gonville and Caius College Choir Cambridge
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1983; Scotland 
7.
Psalm 148 by Judith Weir
Conductor:  Geoffrey Webber
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gonville and Caius College Choir Cambridge
8.
My Guardian Angel by Judith Weir
Conductor:  Geoffrey Webber
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gonville and Caius College Choir Cambridge
9.
Vertue by Judith Weir
Conductor:  Geoffrey Webber
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gonville and Caius College Choir Cambridge
10.
Little tree by Judith Weir
Conductor:  Geoffrey Webber
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gonville and Caius College Choir Cambridge
11.
A blue true dream of sky by Judith Weir
Conductor:  Geoffrey Webber
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gonville and Caius College Choir Cambridge
12.
Madrigal by Judith Weir
Conductor:  Geoffrey Webber
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gonville and Caius College Choir Cambridge
13.
Drop down, ye heavens, from above by Judith Weir
Conductor:  Geoffrey Webber
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gonville and Caius College Choir Cambridge

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