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Track(s) taken from CDA67615

Three Hymns

First line:
What's this morn's bright eye to me
13 March 1989

Schola Cantorum of Oxford, Mark Shepherd (conductor), Jeremy Filsell (organ)
Recording details: March 2000
Exeter College Chapel, Oxford, United Kingdom
Produced by Nick Flower
Engineered by Mike Skeet
Release date: January 2007
Total duration: 2 minutes 56 seconds


'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!' (Classics Today)

'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' (Classical Source)

'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)
The Three Hymns (1989) were commissioned by the Lichfield Festival and were first performed by the Choir of Lichfield Cathedral, conducted by Jonathan Rees-Williams, on 9 July 1989. Maw found the texts in the Oxford Book of Christian Verse and was attracted to them first by their quality, but also because they all belonged to the seventeenth century and thus provided a textural unity. Throughout the organ is prominent and shares the development of ideas with the voices.

In Joseph Beaumont’s ‘Morning Hymn’, the poet speaks of his determination, despite human failings, to walk in the ways of Christ. At first the music is affirmative, but a section follows in which it mirrors the struggle of the poet to find the ‘living light’ of Christ. Gradually the music, to a florid organ accompaniment, becomes increasingly jubilant, culminating in a determined melodic phrase at ‘For Thy ways cannot be shown’.

John Hall’s ‘Pastoral Hymn’ is set to nimble, airy music with a gracefully flowing organ accompaniment in triplets which are taken up by the voices in their evocation of the ‘Happy choristers of air’ wheeling around the throne of God in incessant praise. A fine example of Maw’s musical word-painting occurs when the ‘lazy snails’ are portrayed in a slithering, ponderous phrase. The carolling returns for the last verse in which the poet sees the hand of God in all creation.

The emotional weight of the work falls on ‘Evening Hymn’, a rapt setting of Sir Thomas Browne’s meditation on sleep and death. Out of a somnolent chordal cluster, created by a stepwise descent that will subsequently haunt the hymn, sopranos emerge with a tranquil melody, which is answered, chant-like by the other voices. Solos for two sopranos and alto lead to a solemn moment at ‘sleep is a death’, followed closely after by a section of two-part imitative writing. After a rich chord change at ‘sleep again’, the music rises to an emphatic climax as the poet finds assurance through faith.

from notes by Andrew Burn © 2007

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