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Chilcott: Making Waves / The Sirens

Chilcott / Farrington / Hawkins
Release Date: 01/27/2009 
Label:  Signum Classics   Catalog #: 142  
Composer:  Robert Chilcott
Performer:  Robert ChilcottAlexander HawkinsDereck Scurll
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sirens
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

You are likely to be surprised and delighted.

There can’t be many choral singers in Britain who have yet to encounter the name and music of Bob Chilcott. For a time, he was dogged by being described sniffily as ‘the new John Rutter’ – as if Rutter was ‘old’! – but has now established himself completely in his own right. This disc demonstrates exactly what it is that makes his music so popular and such a delight to sing: an instinctive understanding of what ‘works’ in vocal writing. This is just as you’d expect from a distinguished ex-Kings College choral scholar and ex King’s Singer. He has a strong and characterful melodic gift, and an intense response to selected texts.

He is ably assisted on this
Read more Signum disc by The Sirens, a group of young professional female singers, brought together by Elizabeth Fleming and Chilcott himself, and pianists Iain Farrington and Alexander Hawkins, this last in the Little Jazz Mass along with bassist Michael Chilcott and drummer Derek Scurll.

The first song, ‘Circles of Motion’, is an ideal introduction to Chilcott’s style; a subdued yet active piano part, like sunlight playing on waves, and a swaying, gently syncopated melody in the choir. ‘Like a Rainbow’ is more vigorous and assertive, but surprises with its sudden turn to thoughtfulness and mystery. That prepares the way for ‘All things pass’, a contemplative setting of 6th century words by Lau-Tzu.

‘Making Waves’ was written for a TV programme celebrating Marconi’s life, and begins and ends with the quiet sound of Morse code signals. The piece is unaccompanied, and Chilcott develops wonderful vocal textures. It gives an opportunity for member of The Sirens to take solos, which, here as elsewhere, they do with aplomb.

The next group of three contains some of his most irresistible songs. ‘The Lily and the Rose’ is an exquisite setting of a haunting 16th century text, while ‘Catch a falling star’ explores the gentle melancholy of the famous poem by John Donne. In between these comes – possibly my favourite track on the disc – a brilliant version of ‘So fair and bright’. The way Chilcott lifts the texture with his writing for the piano is a joy, as are his subtle touches of minor key harmony, clouding momentarily the brightness of the song.

‘Swansongs 1’ is another fine piece of unaccompanied writing. I wasn’t so sure, though, about ‘Like a singing bird’, which combines Chilcott’s own melody with the famous one for Robbie Burns’ ‘My love is like a red, red rose’. I simply wasn’t convinced that Chilcott had made a musical success of this combination, and, maybe because of this, the track contains some of the least convincing singing from the choir.

‘This Day’, tracks 12 – 16, is a short cycle of songs which are settings of, respectively, Emily Dickinson, Thomas Ken, a Jewish prayer, R.S. Thomas and John Henry Newman. All very attractive, though my only real ‘thumbs-down’ amongst all the tracks on the disc is for ‘The Bright Field’. It seems to me that Chilcott’s rather hum-drum setting with its twee melody entirely misses the sense of revelation, of epiphany that shines out of this very great poem. But my admiration for Chilcott is such that I must add a health warning to my criticism! It’s always problematic when one encounters a song based on a text that one knows and loves well, for the composer may have an entirely different ‘take’ on the poem. Sometimes this can be stimulating, at others, as here for me, it has a negative impact.

The ‘Little Jazz Mass’ that completes the disc is, I think, great fun, largely because the composer has had the sense to keep the movements short and sweet. Again, Chilcott’s great gifts for melody, rhythm and texture are much in evidence, and the ‘Agnus Dei’, the most extended movement, is a beautiful and affecting concluding item.

If you don’t yet know Chilcott, this is a great place to start; you are likely to be surprised and delighted, for here is an ‘accessible’ modern composer with a strongly individual voice and, at his best, the power to move deeply.

-- Gwyn Parry-Jones, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Making Waves by Robert Chilcott
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sirens
Period: 20th Century 
This Day by Robert Chilcott
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sirens
Period: 20th Century 
A Little Jazz Mass by Robert Chilcott
Performer:  Robert Chilcott (Double Bass), Alexander Hawkins (Piano), Dereck Scurll (Drums)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sirens
Period: 20th Century 

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