In 1978 Schola Cantorum of Oxford—the university’s acclaimed chamber choir—recorded Tippett’s Five Negro Spirituals from A child of our time. Sir Michael wrote, in his sleeve note accompanying the LP release on L’Oiseau Lyre (DSLO 25, re-issued on CD Belart 461 628-2, no longer available): ‘I had never heard the complete set till the recording sessions. I then realised that the sound of these songs when sung thus is quite different from their original settings in the oratorio. They became, as it were, the huge voice of a crowd of folk singing together. It should be clear from the above account of all the variety of pieces on this [all-Tippett] disc how remarkable and resilient a group of young singers the Schola Cantorum of Oxford is, under their equally young, gifted conductor Nicholas Cleobury.’
Some twenty years later, under Jeremy Summerly, the choir was asked to make a new recording of the Spirituals to mark the ninetieth birthday of the composer, by then the group’s long-standing Patron. This new disc—never previously released—is the result of those sessions, where the Tippett works are complemented by recordings of the winning entries in an international composition competition organized by the choir and other works written for it around the same time.
And what an astonishing display of choral pyrotechnics this produced. From the seductive intricacies of Mark Edgley Smith’s E E Cummings settings, through the blues-infused harmonies of Antony Pitts’s polychoral Thou knowest my lying down, to the extended genius of Francis Pott’s Amore langueo (containing what Summerly describes as ‘one of the great moments in English choral music from any period’), this new disc offers fascinating discoveries to the choral aficionado and seventy minutes of the very finest choral experience to all.
All works, apart from the Tippett and Pitts, are first recordings.