The first thing that strikes you about ‘Perpetual Twilight’ is the sheer number and quality of young tenors. Soloist after soloist – each easy and unforced, light and agile – gives the sopranos a run for their money, righting a balance that too often sees the women outclassing the men by some distance in even the very best mixed-voice university ensembles. Whatever artistic director Desmond Earley and voice coach Síle McCarthy-Cannon are doing with The Choral Scholars of University College Dublin, it’s something every other choral director should be knocking down their door to discover.
Perhaps it’s the repertoire. Earley – a composer as well as a conductor – is a passionate champion of traditional Irish music and the works here combine folk songs with newly commissioned pieces that hark back, many setting Irish authors including James Joyce and Frank McGuinness. The style throughout is chorally classical but with a freedom to the solo singing that’s a bit folk and a bit singer-songwriter – perfect for voices still under construction. You can hear the legacy of Michael McGlynn and Anúna in the cloudy blend, though these younger singers lack the latter’s gutsy power at full spate.
Tenor Ciaran O’Donovan and Conor Lyons on bodhrán lead dancing folk songs ‘Dúlamán’ and ‘Bó na Leathadhairce’, both discreetly arranged by Earley himself. These, along with Ēriks Ešenvalds’s rather more interventionist ‘My love is like a red, red rose’ are the pick of the traditional music, while of the new works it’s Bill Whelan’s ‘Elegy’, its poignant subject matter lightly worn and text always to the fore, that finds something substantial to say. Two Joyce settings by Colin Mawby are slight but perfectly formed.
Produced by Nigel Short, this whole project exudes quality, from the choral texture down to the array of fine instrumentalists. Caught somewhere between spotlight and Celtic twilight, it’s a strong follow-up to the group’s 2015 debut, ‘Invisible Stars’.