Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a glorious showcase of one of the finest choral composers at work in Britain today.
There are a lot of composers writing choral music these days, several of them very good, the best of whom convey through every bar of their music one essential trait: they obviously love to write for voices. Bob Chilcott, who's been a prolific contributor to the choral scene for more than a decade, both as an arranger and composer for all types of choirs, is definitely one who loves what he's doing. In all of his music there's joy and vitality, expression of wonder in words, and a clear fascination with the challenge of setting those words to music in the most inventive, effective, and singable way. That's why there's no discernible style across his wide-ranging repertoire of works; rather he seems to allow each new setting to create its own voice. So we get jazz rhythms here, Latin and African rhythms there, a jumpy melody over here, a flowing, lyrical tune over there. Harmonies can be more or less traditional, or flavored with pop or jazz--or more intricate and dissonant and difficult. The writing can be straightforward and easily accessible or quite virtuosic and challenging even to the best choirs.
We get a taste of all of these things on this excellent program, sung with the requisite panache and polished technical proficiency we expect from one of Britain's finest professional choirs. Perhaps the most original (and cleverly conceived) work is the five-section The Making of the Drum, each movement describing a different aspect of the ritualistic art of drum-making, from honoring the goat that must be killed to provide the skin to the religious significance of the drum's "voice". The wild and wonderful marimba part makes an ideal partner to the voices.
More traditional--and often reminiscent of other composers, from Lauridsen to Ticheli to Mulholland--are the very moving And Every Stone Shall Cry and Beach, with its lovely viola solo. My Prayer, written for a Vancouver festival, is based on Purcell's Hear My Prayer, a setting that's decidedly modern in tone but affectingly evocative of the simple but powerful text.
The piece that gives the disc its title is a group of three settings of poems by Walt Whitman--"The modern man I sing" is a line from one of these. While Chilcott manages some clever and often compelling compositional devices in the first and last of the set--particularly regarding rhythmic interplay--it's difficult to really like music that's so intent on forcing its "cleverness" and (in the third piece) manic dissonance on our ears via very emphatic singing and thematic repetition.
Nevertheless, this is effectively balanced by the delightful Shepherd's Carol (written for King's College, Cambridge), the knowingly, sensitively written settings of the Advent Antiphons (known as the "Great O" Antiphons, sung each day in the week preceding Christmas), and the properly mystical Pange Lingua. The disc closes with one of Chilcott's more recent compositions, a jazz-influenced "virtuoso program-ender" whose humorous text begins "Rain it raineth ev'ry day upon the just and unjust fella. Mostly on the just, because the unjust hath the just's umbrella." Just one more reminder that you can't pin this guy down to any style or genre--and proof that he's got to be having a lot of fun.
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com