Notes and Editorial Reviews
At the round earth’s imagined corners.
Of flowers and emeralds sheen.
As the angels stood. Apple Blossom. Corpus Christi Carol. The song of the creatures.
Death be not proud.
Come let us pity not the
Matthew Owens, cond; Wells Cathedral Ch; David Bednall, (org);
Alan Thomas (tpt)
HYPERION 67567 (72:35
Geoffrey Burgon (b. 1941) was originally set on becoming a jazz trumpeter and was steered toward composition by Peter Wishart as a student at the renowned Guildhall School of Music and Drama. In addition to his liturgical and concert output, he boasts a number of television and film credits, including the soundtrack of
. His acknowledged influences include figures as diverse as Machaut, Bach, Stravinsky, and Britten—the latter, to this writer’s ear, a particularly strong one. The present compilation ranges in date from 1963 through 2005, with texts from the likes of John Donne, St. John of the Cross, and St. Francis of Assisi, alongside lesser-known but equally meritorious 20th-century poets. Interestingly enough, the
is presented both in its original 1979 version for treble voices, trumpet, and organ, and in a 1997 rescoring for unaccompanied choir and a pair of soprano soloists.
Andrew Stewart’s unusually generous and informative program notes declare it “unlikely that Geoffrey Burgon will ever be caught arguing on the side of those who insist that ‘high’ art, especially in the form of contemporary classical music, is intrinsically superior to arts with genuine mass appeal.” The composer himself continues, “I wrote accessible music simply because it was the way that the music wanted to come out; it was never a conscious decision.” That “accessibility” is largely owing to the composer’s preference for straightforwardly syllabic text underlay, and to a harmonic language that remains firmly rooted in tonality without descending into predictability—being, on the whole, a tad more adventurous than that of Rutter and his ilk. All of which makes Burgon’s occasional departures from these norms the more effective by way of contrast; take, for example, the Sanctus of the Mass, where the polyphonic treatment of “pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua” (“Heaven and Earth are full of thy glory”) nicely reinforces the fullness of glory expressed in the text. Likewise, the piquant dissonances in the Agnus Dei serve to point up the suffering of the “Lamb of God.”
Musically, these performances are all that could be wished for in terms of technical accomplishment. As to the sound, I confess to being of the school that regards the generous reverberation of British cathedrals as sheer chocolate to the ear. Here, though, it occasionally becomes too much of a good thing. The unaccompanied choral numbers are little harmed in terms of intelligibility; and in those with organ accompaniment, the registrations are sufficiently discreet to avoid overpowering the choir. (The joyously jaunty accompaniment of the Magnificat is, to my ear, particularly appropriate and appealing.) The acoustic is less kind to the soloists, a few of whose final consonants must still be stuck somewhere in the rafters of Wells Cathedral a year after the recording sessions. Most troublesome is the otherwise highly appealing setting of Donne’s
At the round earth’s imagined corners
, which pits a single soprano soloist against both trumpet and organ. The instruments win.
Still, for listeners who fancy a full-disc survey of Burgon’s choral output, it’s this one or nothing. Those who find Stravinsky and Britten too tame might be well advised to steer clear of it; the rest of you should find it considerably rewarding, minor shortcomings notwithstanding.
FANFARE: James Carson
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