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Whitbourn: Living Voices / Jordan, Westminster Williamson Voices

Whitbourn / Westminster Williamson Voices
Release Date: 09/06/2011 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572737   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  James Whitbourn
Performer:  Ken CowanJeremy PowellRonn CarrollJacob Ezzo,   ... 
Conductor:  James Jordan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Williamson Voices
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 5 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews


There’s neither a shortage of works nor lack of variety of new choral music these days. But much of it—especially what tends to be offered by several of the bigger-name commissioned composers—at best exhibits a technical sophistication and/or conceptual scope beyond the performing abilities of even some of the better choirs, and demanding the fiercest devotion by even experienced listeners just to get through it, and at worst, it’s pretentious, gimmicky, and predictable, born of laziness and complete lack of original ideas. The music of British composer James Whitbourn is none of these things; instead, here is music that accomplished choirs can sing, that you don’t have to be an avant-gardeist
Read more listener to pretend to enjoy, and thus, in the grand scheme of choral music, gives singers something to anticipate and savor, and listeners much to celebrate.

The saxophone, as an addition to a sacred choral work, can be an enhancement, a complementary voice, or a major distraction. We’ve heard this sort of thing before, sort of, with the Hilliard Ensemble and Jan Garbarek, in very successful, experimental recording projects for ECM such as Officium and Mnemosyne. But those efforts centered largely on existing early music works and improvised saxophone solos. Whitbourn’s Son of God Mass, the major piece on this program, is a relatively new work (2001) composed for choir, soprano saxophone, and organ. And it’s a gem, a masterpiece, a work that compels you to listen in a new way, to appreciate the saxophone sound as an integral part of the work’s structure and expressive frame. In Whitbourn’s creative hands, and in Jeremy Powell’s sensitive, sensuous realizations, it is a most compelling, wordless soloist, sometimes pleading, prayerful, contemplative, mysterious, moody, sometimes soaring, exuberant. Each movement is exceptionally well conceived to suit the mood and meaning of the texts; the final Amen is a marvelous, climactic utterance.

The chorus, one of the leading ensembles at Westminster Choir College, has premiered several Whitbourn pieces, including another major work on this recording, the Requiem canticorum (2010), and not surprisingly, there’s nothing to fault here. The music thrives on the warm, resonant timbre of these 40 well-trained voices and benefits from ensemble balances carefully tuned to texture and to the acoustic of the Princeton University Chapel.

While Whitbourn shows no lack of originality or facility in effectively integrating voices and saxophone in the Mass and Requiem, at times, especially in the Mass, you can’t help but be reminded of Arvo Pärt’s similar explorations and evocations using choir and solo instruments; in another context, the beautiful anthem Give us the wings of faith (another world-premiere recording) exhibits a certain Rutter-esque attire–definitely not a bad thing, unless you hate getting a tune stuck in your head for days!

The rest of the works on the program, all of which are premiere recordings, vary from significant and absorbing (Winter’s Wait; A brief story of Peter Abelard) to suitably functional (A Prayer from South Africa; All shall be Amen and Alleluia). All are well worth hearing—and repeating. Highly recommended.

-- David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1. Son of God Mass by James Whitbourn
Performer:  Ken Cowan (Organ), Jeremy Powell (Soprano Saxophone)
Conductor:  James Jordan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Williamson Voices
2. Winter's Wait by James Whitbourn
Performer:  Ken Cowan (Organ)
Conductor:  James Jordan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Williamson Voices
3. Give us the wings of faith by James Whitbourn
Performer:  Ken Cowan (Organ)
Conductor:  James Jordan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Williamson Voices
4. A brief story of Peter Abelard by James Whitbourn
Performer:  Ken Cowan (Organ), Jeremy Powell (Soprano Saxophone)
Conductor:  James Jordan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Williamson Voices
5. Living Voices by James Whitbourn
Performer:  Jeremy Powell (Soprano Saxophone), Ronn Carroll (Narrator)
Conductor:  James Jordan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Williamson Voices
6. Requiem canticorum by James Whitbourn
Performer:  Ken Cowan (Organ), Jeremy Powell (Soprano Saxophone)
Conductor:  James Jordan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Williamson Voices
7. All shall be Amen and Alleluia by James Whitbourn
Performer:  Ken Cowan (Organ), Jacob Ezzo (Percussion), Jonathan Palmer Lakeland (Piano)
Conductor:  James Jordan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Williamson Voices
8. A Prayer from South Africa by James Whitbourn
Conductor:  James Jordan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Williamson Voices

Sound Samples

Son of God Mass: Introit
Son of God Mass: Kyrie
Son of God Mass: Kyrie meditation
Son of God Mass: Gloria
Son of God Mass: Lava me
Son of God Mass: Sanctus and Benedictus
Son of God Mass: Pax Domini
Son of God Mass: Agnus Dei
Son of God Mass: Amen
Winter's Wait
Give us the wings of faith
A brief story of Peter Abelard (verson for soprano saxophone and organ)
A Prayer from South Africa
Living Voices
Requiem canticorum: Introit
Requiem canticorum: Pie Jesu
Requiem canticorum: Alleluia
Requiem canticorum: De profundis
Requiem canticorum: Lux aeterna
All shall be Amen and Alleluia

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Beautiful, Mediative, Contemporary January 21, 2012 By Gary B. (Waterloo, ON) See All My Reviews "I came across this quite by accident while trying to find the text of Prayer of Desmond Tuttu, used in the other Naxos Whitbourn Recording on Naxos. It is a brilliant recording I listen to at least every few days. I suffer from Chronic pain, and find it helps me to move more deeply inside. Both albums are fine pieces of work, this one is particularly interesting for the use of Saxophone, not your usual liturgical instrument, but one that is remarkably appropriate.

The Requiem is hauntingly beautiful, the bitingly clear yet reedy voice of the Sax stirring something deep in and of the collective sorrow of the events of 9/11. Healing? Yes, as much as there can ever be healing. I was not directly hurt by those events, so I am hesitant to say more than that,.

Part of The Son of God Mass is here, the lessons, more of less, and more of it ss on the other album… I just wish I knew how it fitted together. Still it is lovely, the African Prayer being quite memorable… well, both albums are. Buy it, buy them both, it is worth the small price and much more to do so."
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