The Marian Collection
This landmark Delphian recording forms the fourth and final issue of a series designed to showcase Merton College’s new choral foundation. The Chapel Choir’s 35 singers criss-cross with astonishing versatility music from the late 15th century (Nesbett’s Magnificat) through Palestrina, some rarely heard Byrd and more mainstream repertory from Stravinsky and Tavener, to a work by the Master of the Queen’s Music, Judith Weir. Her dancing, sweet Ave regina caelorum provides a perfect opener to a stimulating programme dedicated to the figure of the Virgin Mary, all of it put over with passion, aplomb and utter respect for the composers’ intentions.
Central to this theme are the four Marian antiphons associated with the Office of Compline, heard in both 16th-century settings and new treatments by a quartet of British female composers. Of these latter, Kerry Andrew (b1978) and Hannah Kendall (b1984) have produced clangorous, brooding and technically challenging pieces, whereas Dobrinka Tabakova (b1980) treats the meditative Alma redemptoris mater in a highly effective quasi-orchestral style; this is one of the most memorable of the new works on the disc. John Tavener’s Mother of God, here I stand floats with an effortless stillness, pinned down by some superb reedy low bass notes.
With the exception of Jackson’s I say that we are wound with mercy, accompanied with great sensitivity by organist Charles Warren, this is an entirely a cappella disc, in which intonation problems do not exist. By way of conclusion, Bruckner’s Ave Maria (recorded at a greater distance from the microphones) provides a soothing warm bath.