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New Works from Old for saxophone and choir
Sam Corkin (saxophone), Canterbury Cathedral Choir, David Newsholme (conductor) Detailed performer information
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Label: Signum Classics
Recording details: October 2022
Canterbury Cathedral, United Kingdom
Produced by Tim Oldham
Engineered by Mike Hatch & Tom Lewington
Release date: September 2023
Total duration: 82 minutes 54 seconds

Fifteen contemporary composers respond to existing works—ranging from Hildegard, Tallis and Mouton to Ravel, Schumann and Stainer—creating bold new soundscapes for saxophone and voices.

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God so loved the world (Roderick Williams)
The composer writes: 'When Sam Corkin came to me with the idea of contributing a piece, I was already engaged in several other commissions re-imaging church choral music from the Tudor period. Therefore, I wanted to base this piece on something from a different era with significance from my own history of singing English Church music, leading to 'God so loved the world' from Stainer’s Crucifixion. This piece has always struck me as a gem of simple, beautiful Victorian hymnody. I wanted to explore the horrific suffering involved in this willing sacrifice on the one hand and the depth of love and humility on the other. I also wanted to off-set the expressive solo saxophone with the initial formality and harmonic logic of Stainer’s choral hymn. The saxophone incorporates a little quotation from the Matthew Passion by Christus as he prays to his Father to have this onerous duty lifted.'

Roderick Williams’ performances encompass a wide repertoire, from baroque to contemporary music, in the opera house, on the concert platform and in recital. He is also an accomplished composer with works premiered at the Wigmore and Barbican Halls, the Purcell Room and live on national radio. Particularly associated with the baritone roles of Mozart. He has also sung world premieres of operas by, among others, David Sawer, Sally Beamish, Michael van der Aa, Robert Saxton and Alexander Knaifel. Roderick Williams has performed concert repertoire with all the BBC orchestras and many others.

If ye love me (Philip J White)
This setting of Tallis’s If ye love me is an arrangement for double SATB, soprano saxophone and organ. The first choir sings the original setting whilst the other superimposes a ‘modern’ layer within the existing harmonies. The overall effect is one of soft cluster chords as well as a friction in tonality as both Ionian and Lydian modes come up against each other. Underpinning the piece as a whole and shifting the harmonic emphasis is a set of varying double pedal points in the organ. The soprano saxophone and treble organ parts explore a lively interplay of fast-moving flourishes, most noticeably, although not exclusively, at the start and end of the setting.

For over 25 years Philip White was an eminent registrar of the Royal Academy of Music, where he had previously studied composition, conducting and trumpet. His music has been widely performed, broadcast, and published and, since retiring early in 2019, he has taken to full-time composing. Most recently, Philip has written two symphonies as well as concertos for piano, tuba, and cello.

Wayfaring stranger (Errollyn Wallen)
The composer writes: 'Not long before composing the work I had attended the wedding of my dear friend, Dominic Colchester, with whom I have had many musical adventures. During the best man’s speech I learned that it was Dominic’s singing of the American folksong, Wayfaring stranger which had kept everyone’s spirits up after a fall and injury on their camping trip with another friend. Suddenly, all three men who had been on the trip burst into a spontaneous rendition of the song. It was a very moving moment and a tribute to my friend’s kindness and courage. I decided to base my new work around this folksong and to dedicate it to Dominic’s beautiful new son, Halsey Jacob Marcel Colchester.'

Errollyn Wallen is a multi-award-winning composer and performer. She was the first black woman to have a work featured in the Proms and the first woman to receive an Ivor Novello award for Classical Music for her body of work. Errollyn composed for the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games 2012 and for the Queen’s Golden and Diamond Jubilees. Errollyn was awarded an MBE in 2007 in the Queen’s Birthday Honours and a CBE in 2020, in the New Year Honours, for services to music.

Man born of man (Richard Allain)
Man born of man fuses together diverse cultural threads. Part of the text is drawn from the writings of First World War poet Isaac Rosenberg, with references to sacred imagery explored in juxtaposition with Farrant’s 16th-century anthem Call to remembrance, quoted in the central section. Where the text of the Farrant expresses praise and supplication, Rosenberg’s voice is defiant and world-weary. We also hear the melody from a mourner’s Kaddish—part of a Jewish prayer ritual—which runs throughout the span of the piece in the saxophone part. In the hushed closing bars, in place of the typical ‘Amen’, the choir instead intones the 891 names of those also who died in combat on 1 April 1918, the date of Rosenberg’s death. The effect is partly that of a monument in sound, but it serves also as a reminder of the diversity and sheer scale of humanity’s brutal self-destruction.

Richard Allain is widely acclaimed as a choral composer. His output also includes orchestral, chamber, music theatre, song-writing and works for young people. He has worked with many of the country’s leading ensembles and musicians. Recent projects include a collaboration with the BBC Concert Orchestra and Stephen Fry, and Illuminare for organ which was premiered at Westminster Cathedral by Jonathan Stamp.

Sancte Deus (Gabriel Jackson)
The composer writes: 'To make a palimpsest of an existing choral piece there was only one possible choice of composer for me as a former Canterbury Cathedral Chorister—the one-time cathedral lay clerk (and, arguably, England’s greatest composer) Thomas Tallis. Sancte Deus has a rather unusual structure: a series of musical paragraphs of varying length, all of them fairly short and cadencing with a pause on the final chord. Beginning with Tallis’s original, I have simply removed nearly all his notes and inserted my own into the resulting spaces. The phrase structure, words and end cadences are identical too. The one unexpected and slightly odd cadence, at '(damnare) redemptos' is Tallis’s invention, not mine. This Sancte Deus, I hope, sounds neither quite like Tallis nor me, but is, rather, something uniquely Cantuarian and other.'

Born in Bermuda, Gabriel Jackson is one of Britain’s foremost and most celebrated composers. His music is regularly performed, recorded and broadcast throughout Europe and North America. He is a frequent collaborator with the leading professional groups of the world and from 2010 to 2013 he was Associate Composer to the BBC Singers. In July 2017, Exile Meditations, a thirty-minute work that interleaves texts by present-day Middle Eastern displaced persons and poems by post-war European refugees, was premiered at the Railway Museum in Riga.

Lumen de lumine (Paul Newton-Jackson)
Lumen de lumine is a creative re-imagining of the Credo from the ten-voice Missa Dum sacrum mysterium of 1513 by Robert Carver (c1485-c1567). Carver’s beautiful idiosyncrasies, distilling his liminous polyphony and reflecting his 16th-century sounds, are re-imagined in a 21st-century light. Much of the material is new, though many lines are Carver-esque; other parts are direct quotations, and at times whole blocks of counterpoint have been lifted from Carver’s Mass and are re-framed and re-interpreted here.

Originally hailing from Hamilton, New Zealand, Paul Newton-Jackson moved to the UK in 2014 on an academic scholarship. He has recently completed a PhD in early music history at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. His compositions have won multiple awards in New Zealand and the UK. Now based in Edinburgh, Paul combines his research interest in early music with his passion for composition, drawing inspiration from the strange and beautiful sounds of the medieval, renaissance, and baroque eras.

O you, that heare this voyce (Joshua Hagley)
O you, that heare this voyce re-imagines William Byrd’s madrigal of the same name, a relatively upbeat setting of words by Sir Philip Sidney which were first published in 1588. Byrd’s original work is reflected in the structure, vocal shaping, rate of harmonic change and the use of syncopation. The closest resemblance to the original work can be heard in the slow central section of the composition. Here, the thematic material is almost identical, but re-imagined with a different texture and alternative harmonies formed around cluster chords. Strong themes of speaking, voices and orators in Sidney’s text are conveyed by the mellow expressionism of the soprano saxophone. In other words, the saxophone often embodies itself as the ‘voyce’ of the madrigal’s title.

Joshua Hagley was born in High Wycombe in 1995 and started learning piano and violin at a young age. After studying at The Purcell School of Music and Oxford University, he now works as a composer, arranger, piano teacher and organist. As a composer he has worked with ensembles such as The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Aurora Orchestra, The Orchestra of the Swan and the Doha String Quartet with premieres in venues such as the Royal Albert Hall and Westminster Abbey.

Tota pulchra es (Owain Park)
2022 marked the 500th anniversary of the death of Jean Mouton, one of the foremost composers of the Renaissance in Europe and of the Franco-Flemish School. His Tota pulchra es was copied in the Anne Boleyn Songbook, a collection of her favourite works assembled in the early 16th century. Mouton chose a passage from Song of Songs. His setting for lower voices opens this new work. It picks up the text from where he left it. Park writes for three upper-voice parts and soprano saxophone aiming to retain a sense of the old music. Melodic fragments find their way into the voices with the saxophone weaving its way around them.

Owain Park holds a Master’s degree in composition from Cambridge University and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists. His music is regularly broadcast on radio stations around the world, and his chamber opera, The Snow Child, was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The Epiphoni Consort released an album of his secular choral works entitled When Love Speaks in 2020. As a conductor, he maintains a busy schedule of projects with ensembles including the BBC Singers, the Academy of Ancient Music, Cappella Cracoviensis, and Cambridge Chorale.

Rosa sine spina (Francis Pott)
Subtitled as a ‘motet’ for alto saxophone and a cappella chorus, Rosa sine spina reveals its true colours gradually—based on Robert Burns folksong My love is like a red, red rose. The chorus remains wordless except for a brief snatch of Latin heard a little way into the piece. The saxophone duly emerges into a solo cadenza where contours of the Burns tune become more obvious. This freedom continues as the chorus re-enters with a free harmonisation of the tune in its original guise. After a brief climax, the melody surfaces one last time, unadorned by the keening saxophone above wordless echoes of the Latin-text music. The music finally fades away on an unresolved gentle dissonance, as if moving beyond earshot rather than truly ending.

Francis Pott held Open Music Scholarships at Winchester College and then at Magdalene, Cambridge. In 2001 he became Head of London College of Music, University of West London—later becoming their first Professor of Composition. His music has been performed and broadcast in over 40 countries. He was a nominated finalist in the BASCA/BBC Annual Composer Awards and is noted particularly for his sacred choral and organ outputs but has also written a violin concerto, extensive chamber music and three substantial works for chorus and orchestra.

Una sañosa porfía (David Knotts)
The composer writes: 'For many years, I’ve been fascinated by The Spanish Palace Song Book, a Renaissance collection of over 450 polyphonic songs from the reign of the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella—marked by their numerous campaigns to overthrow the territories of Spain under Muslim rule and convert the inhabitants to Catholicism. The most notable of these campaigns was the battle of Granada in 1492 when Muhamed XII of Granada [King Boabdil] was forced to surrender the city and the Alhambra Palace to the Catholic crusaders. Una sañosa porfía is written from this king’s point of view—first bemoaning the fate of his people and ending with a triumphant procession as the crusaders enter the city. I have imagined the saxophonist as a racing caballero, waving the red flag of the crusade at the head of the procession.'

David Knotts studied at the Royal Academy of Music, King’s College, Cambridge, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the University of Sussex. First coming to public attention as a Finalist in the 1994 Young Musician of the Year Composer Competition, David has gone on to write music for many of the country’s finest soloists, orchestras and chamber-music ensembles.

Spiritus Sanctus vivificans (Kerensa Briggs)
Hildegard’s antiphon Spiritus Sanctus vivificans depicts the Holy Spirit as the source of life, paradoxically both moving and as a root of all. Kerensa Briggs wanted to reflect this notion of being both ‘rooted and rousing’ through a twenty-first century lens using sustained harmonic pedals and a rhythmic sense of forward movement, also incorporating the contours and hypnotic quality of the original chant.

Kerensa Briggs is an award-winning composer based in London. Her music has been performed internationally at venues including St Paul’s Cathedral and the Sistine Chapel, and has been widely broadcast, also featuring on a number of CDs. Kerensa won the National Centre for Early Music Young Composers Award 2014. Her love of choral music emanates from her background, singing in choirs including Gloucester Cathedral Youth and the Choir of King’s College London, where she held a Choral Scholarship and undertook an MMus in Composition.

O nata lux (Fredrik Sixten)
The composer writes: 'Inspired by the works of Tallis, O nata lux is a hymn of praise. The starting point is melancholy and darkness—both the choir and the soprano saxophone search for the light. From certainty (or tonality), to uncertainty (atonality), this work reflects the journey many of us take in life. The words of Nobel-prize-winning Swedish author Tomas Tranströmer have inspired me: “In the midst of the forest there is an unexpected glade to be found only by the one who is lost”. This glade could be the holy space of Canterbury Cathedral or wherever we find faith, hope and love to continue to strive ahead.'

Fredrik Sixten is one of the leading Swedish composers of his generation, studying composition with Sven-David Sandström at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm. Before becoming a full-time composer, he worked as a cathedral organist in Sweden and Norway and is known internationally for his many sacred choral works for unaccompanied voices or with orchestra. These works include, among others, a Requiem, Christmas Oratorio and three settings of the passion according to St Matthew, St Mark and St John.

Ave maris stella takes flight (Dominic McGonigal)
Ave maris stella takes flight is a palimpsest on the pre-mediaeval hymn Ave maris stella. The plainsong melody takes on a structural role as the harmony is created by layering the tune, mimicking the effect of the acoustic within a big cathedral. The melodies soar over one another in a polymodal canonical pile-up. By contrast, the solo saxophone line is suspended above the rich harmonies. In places, the melody is fragmented, allowing each note to sing for itself—transporting the listener to another place as the music suspends time and engulfs the senses.

Dominic McGonigal found his voice as a composer with the Missa Et incarnatus est, a large work for eight-part choir, soloists and instrumental ensemble. This led to numerous further commissions, including two string quartets for Pro Musica and a new work for vocal group Fever Pitch, premiered in St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden.

The cage without birds (Cheryl Frances-Hoad)
The cage without birds, for girls’ and boys’ voices, saxophone and organ, takes Schumann’s Wehmut as its starting point. Schumann’s song, from the Eichendorff Liederkreis, Op 39, describes ‘Nightingales, sing[ing] /Their song of longing/From their dungeon cell’. In this piece, motifs from Schumann’s melody are given to the saxophone, who represents a free, cageless bird. The text set is Richard Stokes’ translation of a Jules Renard’s prose poem of the same name, part of his Histoires naturelles.

Admired for her originality, fluency and professionalism, Cheryl Frances-Hoad has been composing to commission since she was fifteen. Classical traditions, along with diverse contemporary inspirations including literature, painting and dance, have contributed to a creative presence provocatively her own. 'Intricate in argument, sometimes impassioned, sometimes mercurial, always compelling in its authority' (Robin Holloway, The Spectator), her output—widely premiered, broadcast and commercially recorded, has reached audiences from the Proms to outreach workshops. It addresses all genres from opera, ballet and concerto to song.

Ave Maria (Jim Clements)
The composer writes: 'As the inspiration for Ave Maria, I chose the first movement of Maurice Ravel’s glorious String Quartet in F, fragmenting, repeating, reshaping and augmenting Ravel’s musical motifs to create something new. My intention is to evoke a single supplicant at prayer: The lilting opening motif of the quartet is fragmented as a hesitant salutation of one unsure how to begin addressing the Virgin Mary. This grows in confidence to extol the Mother of God in the second stanza utilising the unbroken melodic line of Ravel’s second subject. The recapitulation is an impassioned petition with supplicant pleading for Mary to pray for sinners on earth. This becomes less forceful before the final Amen draws the piece to a close through the beautifully shifting harmony of the quartet’s coda.'

Jim Clements started writing and performing music at a young age. Graduating from Manchester University with a first-class degree in music, he decided to pursue a career of singing and composing. As a member of the GRAMMY-nominated vocal ensemble Stile Antico he performed extensively around the globe, frequently deputising in professional ensembles and performing as an oratorio soloist. Jim is Arranger in Residence for VOCES8, who have performed and recorded more than 70 of his arrangements over the last 15 years. He has also written for artists including Paul Simon, Tom Jones, Tim Minchin, The King’s Singers, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

Signum Classics © 2023

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