Music can have an extraordinary power of comfort at times of grief and loss, in a way that is hard to match through the spoken or written word. This beautiful collection from Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort offers an exceptional demonstration of that quality. It's a mixture of choral works from renaissance and more recent times - more of the latter than the former, in fact - written, as the disc's subtitle indicates, for mourning and consolation. In some cases an older piece is paired with a modern work on a related text or theme. So, for example, the wonderful opening "Drop, drop, slow tears" by Orlando Gibbons is followed by William Walton's piece to the same text; and, later on, John Sheppard's equally moving "In manus tuas" is paired with Jonathan Dove's "Into thy hands". Here and elsewhere on the disc, the sequence and the seamless juxtaposition of pieces from different periods work most beautifully.
The most substantial work on the disc is Herbert Howells' Requiem. Here and throughout the programme, the Gabrieli Consort's choral tone is superbly balanced and the singing is heartfelt, delicate, sensitively phrased - clearly every word and its meaning matter to these singers. Although I tend to listen mostly to renaissance and baroque music, and so felt a particular affinity with those earlier works in the programme, I also found James MacMillan's "A Child's Prayer" especially moving. This was written to commemorate the Dunblane massacre in 1996, when sixteen Scottish primary school children and their teacher were killed by a gunman; and in the childlike conception of its music and text it strongly reminded me of a poem written by a young friend in response to that terrible event (" ..... I can still see me, down there on the floor, / But I don't belong to me anymore." - from "Dunblane Angel" by Mhairi Jarvie). MacMillan's piece is movingly sung here by the choir and two solo sopranos, Kirsty Hopkins and Amy Moore.
Altogether, then, this is wonderful choral singing of a programme of music for consolation in death, and one which cannot fail to move the listener. The recording too, in the marvellous acoustic of the Lady Chapel, Ely Cathedral, is irresistibly involving. Paul McCreesh's direction is superb, and his deeply reflective comments in the booklet add the final touch to this profoundly affecting choral programme.
on 12 March 2012
Simply stunning. That pretty much says it all - rarely do you come across a disc full of warmth, magic and beauty. Recorded in the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral with its resonant acoustic, Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort have come up with a real treat for the ear. The centre piece of the album is the Requiem by Herbert Howells which is by far the most moving performance of this work that I have heard. It is a beautiful interpretation of an extremely deep and powerful work. Also featured are two settings of 'Drop, Drop, Slow Tears' by Orlando Gibbons and William Walton. Songs of Farewell is a collection of wonderful music by composers from Gibbons to Dove, all of whom have something in common - the ability to craft music for mourning and consolation with such emotion and conviction. Rarely does an album capture the emotion of such music leaving the listener having witnessed something of an experience. Enjoy.
on 8 May 2012
Purchased on the strength of McCreesh's recent Grande Messe, even though the repertoire on this new disc would not normally attract me. As with the Berlioz, this is superbly well recorded. I find many a cappella recordings unlistenable - some producers seem to place the choir at the opposite end of the chapel to the microphones and even then add gallons of reverb. But this recording sounds natural. There is space, but it is still intimate, suiting the personal nature of the music. Very much wish that the Winged Lion label would release SACD.