BEDNALL Stabat Mater
This is the fourth Regent CD to feature music by David Bednall (b1979), one of Britain’s leading choral composers. The first disc, ‘Hail, Gladdening Light’ (5/07), was a Gramophone Editor’s Choice, and I feel that this new release – featuring an entirely Marian-themed programme – will also prove to be a decisive milestone in his compositional development. The centrepiece is a new setting of the Stabat mater, first heard in New York last year, which received its UK premiere in June with the artists featured here.
Nearly an hour in duration, the 13th-century sequence is cast in 11 movements, including an important prelude for violin and organ, which identifies several leading motifs. The violin takes a central role: Bednall associates it directly with Mary’s sorrow. The work’s idiom is immediate and easily digested. Although Bednall specifically refers to Howells’s influence in his excellent booklet-note, it is very subtly assimilated and is more obvious in the organ accompaniment, with its scrunchy meanderings over long pedal notes. There is also a strong French flavour (for example in the exquisite ‘Eia mater’) and the violin’s sense of rhapsodic lament – played with passionate intensity by the superb Jennifer Pike – points more to Hebraic chant. The young choristers clearly relish the vividness of Bednall’s word-painting. This significant addition will surely be taken up by many of our other crack upper-voice choirs.
Congratulations to the parents of Benenden School’s Chapel Choir, who provided funds towards the commission and to Edward Whiting for producing such a polished, vibrant and unforced tonal blend. With the composer at Tonbridge School Chapel’s Marcussen, this can be said to be an authoritative account.
Both the Marian Suite for violin and organ and the serene Ave Maria were composed especially for this recording. The former is a deftly contrasted triptych and will make a useful addition to the limited violin-and-organ repertory. Strongly recommended.