AAM Records’ newest release features the Academy of Ancient Music joining forces with The Choir of Keble College and director Matthew Martin in a landmark recording of Francisco Vall’s ‘forgotten’ Missa Regalis . Performed from a new edition by Simon Heighes, Valls’ fascinating (and frequently confusticating) juxtaposition of ancient and ‘modern’ compositional styles provides a intriguing glimpse into the treasure-trove of Spanish baroque music, much of which remains relatively unknown to the wider world.
The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, is one of Britain’s great mixed choirs. Under its new director, the mercurial Stephen Layton, it has reached new heights of musical excellence in this latest disc for Hyperion. Accompanied throughout by the Academy of Ancient Music, the choir performs one of Handel’s most florid and dazzling works, the Dettingen Te Deum, which was written to celebrate King George II’s triumphal return from the Battle of Dettingen in 1743. As might be imagined, much of this work is thrillingly bellicose, but some highly cultivated writing shows the composer’s range, expressive versatility and imagination.
The Keble College Choir release their new CD today, entitled Ceremonial Oxford: Music for the Georgian University by William Hayes. The project is a collaboration between the Choir, under Music Director Matthew Martin, and period instrument ensemble Instruments of Time & Truth. The recording is already garnering rave reviews, including a five-star rating in Early Music Review.
Joseph and his Brethren, the latest in The King's Consort's mammoth series of recordings of the grand oratorios of Handel, tells the story of Joseph, sold into slavery by his perfidious brothers, winning acceptance at the court of Pharaoh in Egypt by his interpretation of the dreams foretelling seven years of plenty, and seven of famine. His brothers come from drought-ridden Israel to beg for food, and are eventually reunited with Joseph. The work is characteristically full of melodic invention and drama, culminating in the scene between Joseph and his youngest—and innocent—brother Benjamin (here sung by the stunning treble Connor Burrowes) in which Joseph is emotionally overcome and admits his true identity. No wonder the work was so warmly received at its first performance.
Bach's St John Passon shows the composer's towering imagination at its most intensely dramatic, moving and vivid. Christ's trial and death are retold by soloists acting as participants in the event but also meditating upon it in reflective arias; the choir's role alters from rowdy mob baying for crucifixion to that of a congregation singing quiet, redemptive chorales. Criticised in its day for being too operatic, the work is now revered for its originality, for its faith and above all for its incomparable beauty of musical thought. The new reading is a testament to the vitality of the choral tradition: all soloists are former or current members of New College Choir. It also presents a new level of authenticity, not only with period instruments but also with boys's voices as Bach would have used at St Thomas in Leipzig.
The stylistic pluralism which informs so much contemporary choral writing pays rich dividends in the work of Jaakko Mäntyjärvi—a thrilling programme of some exciting, accessible, contemporary music.