ALLAIN Choral Music
Half of the tracks on this splendid disc are premiere recordings. For his texts the English composer Richard Allain (b1965) has selected widely, ranging from the Psalms, through the Sarum Primer of 1538 to Crawshaw, Shakespeare, RL Stevenson and his brother, the poet Thomas Allain. His approach to word-setting is always acutely responsive, bringing a welcome freshness to classic verses as well as standards such as If music be the food of love (2015) and the ‘Norwich’ Evening Canticles. These latter pieces provide some of the most arresting music on the disc, especially the ecstatic organ part in the Magnificat and the intense baritone solo from Patrick Keefe in the Nunc dimittis. The richest harmonic palette is reserved for the gorgeous wedding anthem Cana’s Guest, Allain’s most-performed work, which unfurls with a spellbinding intensity, and the daring treatment of the spiritual Don’t you weep.
A preponderance of slow unaccompanied music allows the listener to luxuriate in and enjoy the core strength of Benjamin Nicholas’s Merton College choir, with its solid bass section and sufficient choral weight to cope with the wide dynamic range that so much of Allain’s music demands. Finn McEwan’s soprano saxophone comes as a pleasant timbral addition in the Advent antiphon O Day spring and I also enjoyed the nod towards Fauré in the delicious A Prayer of St Richard of Chichester for two-part upper voices and organ.
Of all the music recorded here, the 14 minute Videte miraculum (a reworking of Tallis’s piece of the same name) is the only piece which seems over-long, which cannot be said of the disc’s final track, The Lord reigns (taken from a longer nine movement Vespers of 2011). Its rhythmically vigorous concision rounds off a stimulating and beautifully sung collection, which connoisseurs of the great British choral heritage should rush to buy.