Nicholas Maw is a dominant force in contemporary British music. His Violin Concerto won for Joshua Bell the Mercury Music Prize for Classical Album of the Year in 2000, while his latest opera, Sophie’s Choice—a Covent Garden commission setting William Styron’s harrowing tale of Auschwitz and its aftermath—is currently receiving its American premieres.
Throughout his long career Maw has periodically found time amidst his predominantly orchestral and operatic output to craft some inimitable choral works. This new recording by Schola Cantorum of Oxford present many first recordings and gives a broad overview of Maw’s choral achievements.
Swelling organ accompaniment opens the programme with the Three Hymns; Maw’s reponses to these metaphysical texts are innovative and effective. Two cycles of five miniatures, Epigrams and Irish Songs, show a very different complexion. From the ribald humour of On a noisy polemic to the intense lyricism of Ringleted youth of my love Maw puts his singers to the test, with results that are at once entertaining and moving.
The programme is completed by five carol settings and One foot in Eden, commissioned by King’s College Cambridge as part of their 500th anniversary celebrations in 1990. 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.
Performances by Oxford University’s crack chamber choir, Schola Cantorum, under their director Mark Shepherd, are taut and responsive, the perfect vehicle for this music which deserves the opportunity to reach a wider public.
All works except for One foot in Eden still, I stand and Balulalow are here recorded for the first time.