GMCD 7380 – Full of Grace – Songs to the Virgin Mary

Fairhaven Singers, Ralph Woodward (conductor)

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American Record Guide – January/February 2013

This program brings together a cappella settings of Marian devotional texts, liturgical and non-liturgical, beginning in the 16th Century with Parsons and Praetorius, skipping over the 17th and 18th centuries, taking up again in the 19th Century with works by Franz, Brahms, and Bruckner, and continuing to works by living composers. There are six settings of the Latin ‘Ave Maria’. Rachmaninoff’s setting in Slavonic is probably the best-known movement from his All Night Vigil. The part-song by Robert Franz is a devotional poem that uses the invocation “Ave Maria” as its point of departure. The seven Marienlieder by Brahms are settings of poems from Des Knaben Wunderhorn.
The Fairhaven Singers is a 40-voice choir based in Cambridge. They have given a number of concerts in London and have made tours in Italy, Germany, and France. As heard here they have a good mixed choir sound, though I find their tone just a bit breathy and pale, especially in the sopranos. It is a sound I associate with youthful English voices, though it can continue later in life judging from the photograph of the choir reproduced on the back cover of the booklet. The choral discipline and intonation are exemplary. Some choirs are able to reflect the varying stylistic properties of music from different periods with sound that is subtly different in character. These performances by the Fairhaven Singers have a strong common personality that comes through regardless of the period. It is to be expected that texts of Marian devotion will evoke music that is predominantly gentle and delicate, and that may help to account for the consistency of character in these performances.