Palimpsest Saxophone and Choir Signum SIGCD766

New Works from Old for Saxophone and Choir
Sam Corkin (saxophone), Jamie Rogers (organ)
Canterbury Cathedral Choir/David Newsholme
rec. 2022, Canterbury Cathedral, UK
Signum Classics SIGCD766 [83]

Here is a fulsome collection of recent works by living composers. They were written for the provocative combination of saxophone and choir; a good choice. The fear was that this could have been a thing of “rags and tatters”. In fact, it represents substantial listening fare. Brevity in this case denotes no lack of reverence or profundity, nor any dearth of grace or awe.

Roderick Williams is a growing presence as a composer. His God so loved the World, written for this collection, is clad in tenderness and a species of imploring beauty. With its organ, sax and choral forces it is occasionally reminiscent of RVW’s Antartica or Pastoral. It has been a commonplace to look askance at Stainer and his Crucifixion – beloved of church choirs, modest and less, at one time. Here, Williams speaks of his admiration for ‘God so loved the world’ from The Crucifixion: “a gem of simple, beautiful Victorian hymnody”.

Philip White’s If Ye Love Me is shorter and plies its trade with calm and balm. White has composed two symphonies and concertos for piano, tuba and cello. Errollyn Wallen is much better known. Her Wayfaring Stranger gels choir with sax and, in doing so, establishes a musing presence. It is dedicated to the new son of Wallen’s friend, Dominic Colchester. Richard Allain is just as well known as Wallen and his extended piece Man Born of Man with its Howells-like touches places the sax in a commanding position right from start. It also seems to speak of a musing supplicant. The words are, in part, drawn from the poetry of First World War poet, Isaac Rosenberg. Gabriel Jackson was born in Bermuda and was once a member of the Canterbury Cathedral choir. His Sancte Deus is touched with the Howells’ manner, but there is an additional element that is pushy and forward pressing.

Paul Newton-Jackson’s name is new to me; we hear his Lumen de Lumine. This takes, as its point of departure, the Missa Dum sacrum mysterium by Robert Carver (c.1485-c.1567). Just as unfamiliar is Joshua Hagley whose O You That Hear This Voyce is again a lively presence, defeating the danger of somnolence in collections such as this. The sax part is inventive and chimes well with the calypso-like aspects of this diverting piece.

Owain Park’s Tota Pulchra Es reverts to a slow-shifting monastic character, which pairs nicely with the reverence of Francis Pott’s motet Rosa Sine Spina. Pott has also penned a violin concerto, chamber works and three pieces for chorus and orchestra. I would like to hear these. David Knott’s Una Sañosa Porfiá is memorable, not least for its Messiaenic fanfares for the upstart organ. Kerensa BriggsSpiritus Sanctus Vivificans is lovingly tender, with steady ululation from the sax. Swedish composer, Fredrik Sixten’s O Nata Lux sways thoughtfully. Dominic McGonigal’s Ave Maris Stella is a diminutive piece with a long prefatory sax solo and then the choir. McGonigal has also written two string quartets. Cheryl Frances-Hoad is rather a treasured composer – not least by me, Her bright and forward The Cage Without Birds is bell clear. It is for girls’ and boys’ voices, saxophone and organ and takes Schumann’s Wehmut as its starting point. In Jim Clements’Ave Maria the voices of the men and women are clearly delineated and there’s a reflective sax as well. The composer tells us the score was inspired by the first movement of Ravel’s String Quartet.

The recording nicely captures these samples of “old wine in new bottles”. The disc is amply supported by a 24-page booklet, which is both sensitively and attractively planned and executed. This is a highly skilled choir – matched by saxophonist and organist – that evidently relishes the challenges of so much new music from so many varied perspectives.

Rob Barnett

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Content List

Roderick Williams (b. 1965) God so loved the World [4.50]
Philip White If ye love Me [4.23]
Errollyn Wallen (b. 1958) Wayfaring Stranger [4.22]
Richard Allain Man Born of Man [7.51]
Gabriel Jackson (b. 1962) Sancte Deus [6.06]
Paul Newton-Jackson Lumen de Lumine [6.26]
Joshua Hagley (b. 1995) O You that hear this Voyce [4.58]
Owain Park (b. 1993) Tota Pulchra Es [5.21]
Francis Pott (b. 1957) Rosa Sine Spina [9.39]
David Knotts (b. 1972) Una Sañosa Porfiá [4.43]
Kerensa Briggs Spiritus Sanctus Vivificans [5.43]
Fredrik Sixten (b. 1962) O Nata Lux [6.13]
Dominic McGonigal Ave Maris Stella takes flight [3.21]
Cheryl Frances-Hoad (b. 1980) The Cage Without Birds [3.01]
Jim Clements (b. 1983) Ave Maria [5.57]