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Track(s) taken from CDA67615

Five Epigrams

composer
1960
author of text

Schola Cantorum of Oxford, Mark Shepherd (conductor)
Recording details: March 2000
Exeter College Chapel, Oxford, United Kingdom
Produced by Nick Flower
Engineered by Mike Skeet
Release date: January 2007
Total duration: 6 minutes 38 seconds
 
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Reviews

'Nicholas Maw comes out of that excellent group of British composers born in the 30s. Congratulations to Hyperion for producing this CD, which is not attached to an anniversary, simply because it is a superb example of choral writing performed by a first-class choir. Maw's striking miniatures include the Three Hymns, Five Epigrams, Five Carol Settings, Five Irish Songs and One Foot in Eden still, I stand. The composer illuminates a text from within with wit and charm and total understanding, the occasional accompaniment adding another dimension to the overall sound. Schola Cantorum of Oxford gives an excellent performance and is obviously enjoying every minute. A totally enjoyable experience' (Choir & Organ)

'Schola Cantorum, Oxford's premier mixed choir, connects deeply with Maw's Romanticism, and gives a rich, sound-driven account … more Maw, say I' (BBC Music Magazine)

'This new CD release from Hyperion Records will bring Maw to the attention of a wider audience by virtue of its excellent recording quality and beautiful peformances by the Schola Cantorum of Oxford' (Lifestyle Magazine)

'British composer Nicholas Maw (b1935) is a master of this idiom, especially impressive in the five 'carols' that mark the middle of this exceptional program. The Angel Gabriel has been set countless times, but Maw's is a truly original version that retains the essence of the melody while adding a new harmonic and properly ethereal/atmospheric dimension to this well-loved Christmas song. The title work, One foot in Eden still, I stand … is an extended composition for a cappella choir that sticks to tonal, text-driven choral writing techniques that respect the dramatic elements of the poem while honoring the importance of pure, idiomatic vocal expression and unique sound quality. The Schola Cantorum of Oxford under Mark Shepherd's solid direction makes the best imaginable advocate for this music, delivering impeccably polished, full-bodied performances recorded in vibrant, carefully balanced sound. Highly recommended for fans of modern choral music!' (ClassicsToday.com)

'Maw's lyrical reflective style suits the choral medium well … the first piece, 'Morning Hymn' certainly raises its hat to Maw's teacher Lennox Berkeley, the second 'Pastoral Hymn' even to composers like Finzi and Vaughan Williams, and all three are thoroughly effective, touching, and really deserve a regular place in the repertoire. The choir responds to the ‘Hymns’ with enthusiasm and confidence, as it does to the set of five Christmas carols that range from the austere two-part 'Our Lady's Song' and an imaginative setting of the well-known 'The Angel Gabriel', in which Maw surrounds the original tune with leaping, ecstatic dancing lines, to the soothing 'Swete jesu' written for King's College, Cambridge in 1992 … if this release encourages people to examine the choral work of one of England’s finest composers then that is all to the good' (ClassicalSource.com)

'Maw's choral music … expects and rewards singing of the quality which this fine Oxford choir is able to provide. Fine tuning and they relish the subtle harmonies which pervade. All the words are in English, worth reading on their own, and enhanced by Maw's treatments. The booklet is a model of its kind, texts complete and in strong black on white for a change! All the singers named, as they deserve to be. I've played this CD through twice and will come back to it again' (MusicalPointers.co.uk)
In Five Epigrams (1960), Maws succeeds effortlessly in accomplishing his aims when composing for amateur singers. The set was written shortly after he had finished his composition studies, and at this point in his career he was keen to write something for a choir. When he came across these pithy epigrams by Robert Burns, he felt that they ‘provided somewhat different kind of texts than usual in choral music’. In addition he was also ‘attracted by the brevity of the poems, as that would mean short musical settings, which I assumed would be more attractive to choirs, since this was the work of a young, so far, unknown composer’. The work was dedicated to Kenneth Roberton and The London Scottish Choir, who gave the premiere in 1961.

‘On a noisy polemic’ is enhanced by a choral accompaniment to the folksong-like melody. Vocal glissandi and shouted speech wittily emphasize the word ‘bitch’, and more humour occurs at the words ‘O Death, it’s my opinion’ where, to the marking Andante religioso, the phrase is set to a mocking plagal cadence. In ‘On the death of Robert Ruisseaux’ Maw pairs the voices (latterly as a stark two-part canon) to create a sombre elegy.

With its swift pace and gradual crescendo, ‘On a henpecked country squire’ gives a vivid portrayal of the husband literally nagged to death. Altos and sopranos chase each other in imitation, then basses and tenors follow suit. The ‘lady famed for her caprice’ finds her ephemeral character evoked through the word-painting of the word ‘butterfly’; and equally her want of ‘goodness’ as the second syllable of the word lands on a biting dissonance.

Clearly Burns did not like the eponymous ‘Andrew Turner’! The epigram recounts that the Devil planned to ‘mak’ a swine’, but changing his mind he ‘shaped it something like a man / And ca’d it Andrew Turner’. Maw tells the tale to a rollicking tune with tattoo-like accompaniment.

from notes by Andrew Burn 2007

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