Ascension

A shining service of contemporary works

Author: 
Malcolm Riley

Ascension

  • Tremunt videntes angeli
  • Preces and Responses
  • (L') Ascension
  • Preces and Responses II
  • Viri Galilaei
  • Psalm 108, 'O God my heart is ready'
  • Psalm 47, 'O clap your hands'
  • Arise and hail the sacred day
  • Exon Service, Magnificat
  • Exon Service, Nunc dimittis

The striking geometrics of this disc’s cover set the visionary tone to a tee. Segments of Sir Eduardo Paolozzi’s stained glass Millennium window (installed in St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh, and dedicated in 2002), match perfectly this Ascension-themed programme. It consists of a complete Choral Evensong of contemporary works associated with St Mary’s, rounded off with Messiaen’s L’Ascension, played by the cathedral’s organist, Matthew Owens.

The choir sing with tremendous fervour, clarity and power, coping assuredly with a wide range of choral textures and techniques, including some improvisation, in James MacMillan’s unaccompanied motet Tremunt videntes angeli (the disc’s highlight). I particularly liked the slightly raw and edgy tone of the mixed-sex top line. Equally enjoyable were the Kenneth Leighton Preces and Responses which sound as harmonically audacious as when they first appeared in 1964. Patrick Gowers’ exotic anthem Viri Galilaei also bears repeated listening. Plaudits, too, to the assistant organist, Simon Nieminski, who accompanies throughout with flair and good taste. With his support the two Office hymns stride along vigorously and simply.

Interest slackens with the two Psalms which are sung to plainsong and Richard Allain’s cluttered 1997 setting of the Evening Canticles drifts perilously towards the cacophonous.

Although not the ideal vehicle for Messiaen’s early (1932) meditation, the Cathedral’s four-manual Father Willis copes well, particularly in the best-known movement, ‘Transports de joie’.

An occasional faint rumble of traffic does nothing to detract from the superb recording quality. This is a disc worth buying for the MacMillan alone.

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