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Track(s) taken from CDA67615

One foot in Eden still, I stand

3 August 1990
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: 7 minutes 52 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)
Maw’s motet One foot in Eden still, I stand (1990) is a setting of the Scottish poet Edwin Muir which Maw discovered in The New Oxford Book of English Verse 1250–1950. It was commissioned by King’s College, Cambridge to mark the 500th anniversary of the founding of the college and first performed by King’s College Choir, conducted by Stephen Cleobury, in King’s College chapel on 18 September 1990. Scored for mixed choir and soloists, as well as optional organ (omitted on this recording), it demonstrates a composer in total command of his medium and is impressive in its varied choral writing and striking use of harmony and melody in response to the text.

Muir’s poetry is riven with the recurring image of mankind’s Fall in the Garden of Eden, and the subsequent loss of innocence. From his personal perspective, his own enactment of the Fall took place when, after an idyllic Orkney childhood, he moved with his family at the age of fourteen to the urban ‘Hell’ of Glasgow; it was a change that proved traumatic for him. In this poem Muir posits the view that mankind’s acquisition of knowledge at the Fall brought evil but also good so that ‘nothing now can separate / The corn and tares compactly grown’.

The peaceful opening for the solo quartet, almost chanted like a prayer, is exquisite in its serene beauty and is quietly answered by the full choir in unison. This alternation of voices sets much of the pattern for the work. A melody with expressive leaps for the sopranos is taken up by the tenor solo, before a climax occurs at ‘Evil and good stand thick around’. The first section ends with a hushed, lush cadence at ‘lead our harvest in’, out of which the music of the opening is magically recalled by the quartet.

A memorable, agitated musical image occurs at the words ‘Scattered along the winter way’ and a solo for the alto takes up the jagged rhythm of ‘scattered’. The music rises to an intense climax at the crux of the poem ‘What had Eden ever to say / Of hope and faith and pity and love’ and again at ‘buried all its day’. Only at the very end of the poem is a resolution achieved, as reflected in the concord of the music in the final bars.

from notes by Andrew Burn © 2007

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