DAVISON Awake, my soul
This is the second disc of choral music by American composer Gary Davison that Matthew Owens and his excellent Wells Cathedral Choir have released. The first, ‘The Armour of Light’ (Regent, 2016), was also the first commercial recording devoted solely to Davison’s work and included a number of pieces written especially for the ensemble. The second, ‘Awake My Soul’, continues that relationship, with Davison’s Requiem Mass, commissioned by the choir in 2015, as its centrepiece.
That Davison is a practising church musician himself (organist and choirmaster since 1995 at St Francis Episcopal Church, Potomac, Maryland) is evident in the skill with which he writes for his forces, achieving maximum dramatic, textual and sonic impact with music whose relatively simple demands put it well within the reach of most church choirs. Wells, however, are a crack team, and the Requiem (scored for choir, organ, mezzo and viola) gives them some welcome additional scope.
The booklet note makes much of Davison’s debt to Duruflé and Fauré but it’s the influence of Stanford, Bainton and Bairstow we hear first in the title-track – a solid piece of declamatory diatonicism. The rest of the disc settles into an attractive if rather generic liturgical style with one foot in the past (a fauxbourdon set of canticles, plenty of chant-like melodies and modal harmonies).
The Requiem’s additional forces give us some sumptuous viola-playing from Philip Dukes and some vibrant colours from the Wells Cathedral organ, played here by David Bednall. There are echoes of Frank Martin in the fretful incantation of the Kyrie and of Howells in the soaring writing for viola that weaves itself around the voices in the Gradual and Offertory. Both Wells’ boy and girl choristers are credited here and bring an easy brightness to the sound. The work is an efficient one – liturgically functional, textually vivid – without being especially memorable.