GMCD 7291 – Hail Mary

Lincoln Cathedral Choir, Arice Prentice – Conductor, Charles Harrison – Organ

To the CD in our Shop

CMQ, December 2006

If Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code has ruffled feathers in some quarters of the Church, it seems also to have inspired a new interest in Mary Magdalene, one of the most popular saints in the middle ages. Belinda Sykes’s vocal and instrumental ensemble Jolgaresa has produced a very attractive disc of eleventh to fourteenth-century music dedicated to this particular Mary. The lissom performances make medieval music accessible in a way that many will enjoy.

The Lady Chapel Singers’ disc is part of The Women’s Sacred Music Project, Inc. and`explore[s) salvation history through the eyes of women’. The repertoire is broad: from eighth-century chant to the contemporary, and includes a piece by that fine baroque composer Elizabeth Jacquet de la Guerre. A number of African-American spirituals are also included. Although the quality of both the performances and the compositions themselves is variable, one senses that, by virtue of its theme, this disc finds its audience.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is the patron saint of Lincoln Cathedral, so it is fitting that the Lincoln Cathedral Choir’s new disc should be of music composed in honour of her. This is the first CD an which the boy and girl choristers are heard singing together. The result is a richly toned treble line, ably supported by the thirteen Gentlemen. The programme ranges from plainsong to contemporary pieces. An eight-part setting of the Magnificat by Praetorius sounds very fine in the cathedral’s generous acoustic. The ravishing First movement of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater is a welcome inclusion, although the organ accompaniment sounds surprisingly stark and unsympathetic. Works by Saint-Saens, Grieg, Bruckner and Duruflé are also included. The contemporary pieces are Tavener’s popular Hymn to the Mother of God and the Magnificat: Collegium Regale, Andrew Carter’s Mary’s Magnificat (an expressive work that is a portrait of the BVM, rather than a fall setting of the Magnificat text), and Wayne Marshall’s Magnificat in C (a sugary affair for upper voices and organ). Some organ Solos provide opportunities to hear the magnificent Lincoln Willis; and it is an organ piece, Flor Peeters’s glorious Toccata, Fugue et Hymne sur Ave Marin Stella that brings the disc to a majestic conclusion.

American Record Guide, May/June 2006

The titles leave no doubt as to what these two releases are all about, and there are countless albums of this kind out there. Here we get to compare the fine work of both the boy- and girltreble choirs of Lincoln Cathedral to the appealing efforts of a mixed ensemble from Cambridge. Each is recorded in its home church.

Lincoln Cathedral has valid reason to celebrate the Virgin, having been consecrated to that purpose in the late 11th Century. There has been a choir of men and boys at Lincoln for nearly a millennium (the girls were added in recent years), and sacred Marian repertoire has ever been their main fare. Such mind-boggling tradition shows, in selections ranging from plainchant to living composers. High points include a stirring, chant-laced eightpart Magnificat from Praetorius and a particularly ethereal rendition of Bruckner’s ‘Ave Maria’. Pleasant discoveries include Grieg’s ‘Ave Maris Stella’ setting and Saint-Saens’s ‘Ave Maria’.

I was a bit puzzled by the sound of the trebles until I read in the notes that this is their first recording where both boy and girl choristers join the men. Bravo to the Lincoln program-why shouldn’t girls get their slice of the English child-treble tradition and the same quality of musical training that has always been available to any English lad with a sweet voice? All the more seasoned singers to further enhance England’s profusion of world-class choirs. It’s no great matter musically, as their soaring sonorities are a treat-though seasoned listeners will know that they’re not hearing boys.

The Corpus Christi Choir of Cambridge is no slouch where tradition is concerned, either: their college was founded in 1352. It has lately evolved into of those all-student ensembles, to include their directors. Mr Soper and Ms Drake perform here as Organ Scholars: undergraduate students of particular merit, in training to be tomorrow’s organist-choirmasters in the timeless Anglican tradition. Both give evidence of their talent here, in a pleasing array of Marian music that includes several selections heard above (Grieg, Bruckner). But their program-despite the inclusion of treasures from early composers like Gesualdo and Johannes Eccard (1553-1661)-tends to favor more recent composers like Britten, Stravinsky, Gorecki, and William Harris. Particular attention is paid to the accomplished music of Andrew March (b 1973), who is represented by six pieces.

This is a very good choir, offering solid technique, pleasing sound, and youthful spiri-tual intensity-though they lack the smooth polish and refinement of some of their better-known English counterparts.

Both releases are worth having, but I must give the nod to the Lincoln effort: it is more in keeping with the traditional English sound and spirit, even with the girl choristers-and I found their program more appealing. The cathedral’s ravishing acoustics add a point in their favor, too. Each album offers a complete booklet and excellent recording quality.

International Record Review, November 2005

New Anonymous Virgo prudentissima. Hodie Maria Virgo (two versions of each). There is no rose of such virtue. Bruckner Ave Maria. A. Carter Mary’s Magnificat. Durufle Tota pulchra es, Maria. Grieg Ave Maris Stella. Langhis Triptique Gregorien

Rosa mystica. Marshall Magnificat in C. Peeters Toccata, Fugue et Hymne sur Ave Maris Stella, Op. 28. Pergolesi Stabat mater. Pettman The Angel Gabriel. Praetorius Magnificat à 8. Saint-Saens Ave Maria. Tavener Hymn to the Mother of God. Magnificat: Collegium Regale. Lincoln Cathedral Choir/Aric Prentice with Charles Harrison (organ).

Guild GMCD7291 English/Latin texts and English translations included. Website Producer/Engineer Michael Ponder. Dates January 31 st-February 3rd, 2005.

Lincoln Cathedral is dedicated to St Mary, so it is entirely appropriate that its choir should have devoted this disc to music composed in her honour; and there’s certainly plenty from which to choose. Lincoln’s highly gifted Director of Music, Aric Prentice, has chosen well, selecting a good range of music and styles, stretching from Medieval chants to a jolly piece of pseudo-American light music by Wayne Marshall, and inspiring his choir to perform them with great verve and aplomb.

The recorded sound here is sumptuous and the Cathedral’s ample acoustic, nicely caught in Michael Ponder’s sympathetic recording, generously enhances the choir’s sound. But, like so many English cathedral and collegiate choirs, the rare and attention lavished an the treble line (here it is sung by both boys and girls) can result in a very top-heavy sound. The Lincoln men are superb, with a nice balance between musical maturity and vocal freshness, but there are only 13 of them against some 34 trebles, and while it isn’t always clear whether all the trebles are singing at any one time, the balance is an a knife-edge at the best of times. Occasionally it tips over the edge, and one feels that the trebles are trying just too hard; there is a sense of competition between them which, after a while, becomes as exhausting an the ear as it clearly is an the voice. Praetorius’s Magnificat à 8 at one point descends into near-chaos as the top voices race to see who can descend through the scale the quickest and the loudest, but elsewhere the problem is exposed in a forced, overwhelming treble sound which, as in the Bruckner motet, lends a snse of tension and stress which undermines the fundamental calmness of the music. When they relax, however, the Lincoln choristers produce a lovely sound. Their account of Griegs ravishing Ave Maris Stella is unbelievably beautiful, while the intense excitement they bring to Tavener’s Magn f cat is little short of spellbinding.

I’m not sure that the two Marian organ solos – by Langlais and Flor Peeters – are the most suitable or the most worthwhile examples around, but they are played authoritatively by Charles Harrison, who also provides neat organ accompaniments for some of the anthems an what is, at heart, a disc of wonderful music, performed with great sensitivity and captured in quite magical sound.
Marc Rochester

Choir & Organ – Jan./Feb. 2006

The girl and boy choristers of Lincoln Cathedral join forces with the men in music in praise of the Mother of God. This is the first Choral CD from the cathedral in nix years and if this is anything to go by 1 can’t wait for the next. The music spans the centuries from plainchant to Tavener, Carter and Wayne Marshall, with many intervening stops along the way. The two Sets of young choristers have a very different tone and it’s fun to Spot who is singing what. It gives lie to the remark that boys aren’t good when there are girls around. The fervour of the choir is remarkable and uplifting. In keeping with the programme the two Organ Works – given an exemplary performance by Charles Harrison – are by Langlais and Flor Peeters.
***** 12.12.2005

Die der Heiligen Jungfrau Maria gewidmete Lincoln Cathedral ist eine der ältesten Diözesen in England. Die Gründung erfolgte bereits im 11. Jahrhundert. Seit 900 Jahren existiert ein Chor, der in jüngerer Zeit durch Mädchenstimmen angereichert wird. Der Lincoln Cathedral Choir ist regelmäßig bei der BBC im Radio und im Fernsehen zu sehen. Trotzdem ist es bereits sechs Jahre her, seit der Chor seine letzte Aufnahme gemacht hat. Jetzt präsentiert Musikdirektor Aric Prentice ein Programm, das der Schutzheiligen der Kathedrale gewidmet ist und zehn Jahrhunderte umfasst.

Große Bandbreite

Es ist durchaus beeindruckend, mit welcher Selbstverständlichkeit hier ein enorm umfangreiches Chorrepertoire vorgestellt wird. Neben Bruckners wie mit britischem Understatement dargebotenen Motette ‚Ave Maria’ erklingen gregorianischer Choräle in ebenso klarer Diktion wie Sir John Taveners intrikate Satzstrukturen in ‚Hymn to the Mother of God’ oder dem ‚Magnificat Collegium Regale’ oder das ‚Magnificat in C’ des 1961 geborenen Wayne Marshall. Die Mischung von Knaben- und Mädchenstimmen erlaubt vor allem in der Höhe mehr Flexibilität und vor allem eine durch mehr Volumen angereicherte Tonsicherheit. Die wenigen, aber kraftvollen Alt-, Tenor- und Bassstimmen bilden keinen herausstechenden Gegenpart, sondern ergänzen die Jungen und Mädchen in einem angenehm homogenen Klangbild. Aric Prentice lässt große Sorgfalt bei der Textverständlichkeit walten, ebenso bei der klaren Phrasierung. Dynamische Staffelung mag an manchen Stellen vielleicht allzu stufig anmuten, ist aber den räumlichen Gegebenheiten angepasst und fördert vielmehr die Artikulation und die Durchhörbarkeit der Sätze. Alle Stimmen passen sich so ungemein organisch in den Gesamtklang des Chores ein, dass Einzeltöne im und mit dem Raum zu schwingen beginnen. Das ist schon große Chorkunst.

Charles Harrison bietet auf dem ‚Gebrauchsinstrument’ der Lincoln Cathedral, der 1898 gebauten Willis-Orgel Werke von Jean Langlais und Flor Peeters: farbig registriert und mit nahezu symphonischen Gestus, gewaltig, nicht gewalttätig.

Die Akustik der Lincoln Cathedral ist klangtechnisch ganz bestechend ausbalanciert worden und das Booklet ist mit eingehenden Anmerkungen zu den aufgenommenen Werken angereichert.

Beste englische Chortradition.
Erik Daumann

Music Web Thursday October 13 05

The UK’s cathedral choirs are surely musical jewels in the crown. …

The UK’s cathedral choirs are surely musical jewels in the crown. It is a tradition that lives strongly to this day, as can be clearly heard from, in this instance, Lincoln. Not the greatest of our jewels, there is nevertheless a professionalism and dedication here. The programme is nicely wide-ranging (the Wayne Marshall was a surprise), with interspersed chants adding significantly to the atmosphere.

Lincoln Cathedral has been dedicated to the Virgin Mary since the beginning of the eleventh century. The present flowering of interest in the Mother of God (and the Mother of the Church) perhaps reflects a broader trend towards the search for a Divine Goddess, and one that would perhaps not contradict the more traditional Christian readings. Good to see this flowering in musical form, therefore – this is not to be confused with concurrent interest in Mary Magdalene, another aspect of this resurgence of the feminine.

Lincoln Choir has a mix of boy and girl choristers. Some may find this impure, but actually there is a subtle alternation of sound. The choir as a whole does not have massive depth of sound even though the acoustic – and Guild’s recording thereof – is one that adds body.

The Praetorius Magnificat shows just how rhythmically on-the-ball Lincoln’s choristers are. ‘The Angel Gabriel’, probably the most famous track, lilts in a way that makes the cosy ‘Mary’s Magnificat’ that follows the logical next step.

The Grieg piece was new to me, and I am glad to make its acquaintance. Its affecting simplicity comes from a composer not associated in my mind with liturgical music although there are several rival versions of this piece available.

It is the Langlais that brings with it hints at least of mysticism, its varied and interesting harmonies leading to a rewarding listening experience. This is more than Wayne Marshall’s naïve Magnificat offers, with its saccharine-sweet, yukky end. It is left to Bruckner, no less, to redirect the listener towards the sublime (‘Ave Maria’). Here the care that evidently went into choral balance clearly paid off.

The trebles/girls do very well with the ultra-high challenge of Tavener’s ‘Collegium Regale’, while the whole disc is ‘led out’ by Charles Harrison’s simply superb account of Flor Peeters’ bright and imposing ‘Toccata, Fugue et Hymne sur Ave Maris Stella’. There is great depth to the recording.
Colin Clarke