Anthems for the 21st Century
A syrupy piece of kitsch by Ward Swingle is the odd one out here. The remainder of the disc is given over to English composers but the one thing linking all 12 anthems is that they have been composed since 2000. Only Todd’s wordless evocation of the singing of angels might be seen as using choral voices in a non-traditional way. As for the others, each relies on conventional choral devices, leaving the rest to the musicality and technical assurance of the singers themselves.
In this respect the Vasari Singers and Jeremy Backhouse have few equals. For the past quarter of a century they have been a consistently outstanding choir and a majority of these pieces were commissioned for their 25th anniversary. One is a sumptuous setting of the words of the Sufi mystic Al-Junaid that Gabriel Jackson has tailored to the unique strengths of the Vasaris, which he describes as ‘transparent, refined and meticulous, but also possessed of great fervour and vitality’.
Those qualities are much in evidence here in music ranging from the harrowing grief of Jonathan Rathbone’s ‘Absalon, my son’ to the exhilarating ‘Bless the Lord’ by Jonathan Dove. Only Stephen Barlow’s ‘When I See on Rood’ seems to have stretched the choir to its limits. It is as much a testament to the Vasaris’ supreme collective virtuosity as to Jeremy Filsell’s innate sensitivity, that Filsell’s staggeringly resourceful organ playing in three of the anthems (by Dove, MacMillan and Filsell himself) complements rather than outshines the singing.