Released to celebrate the British composer’s 70th birthday, this recording surveys Cecilia McDowall’s substantial choral output, most of it written in the past two decades. She could scarcely have a better group to sing it than Stephen Layton’s Trinity College Choir. They latch instinctively onto the vibrantly ululating textures in the six-part setting of Alma redemptoris mater which opens the disc, and in the contemplative eight-part O Oriens expertly sift the overlaying harmonies, hitting tight intervals with pinpoint accuracy.
Layton adeptly knits together the discrete sections of Standing as I do before God (Anita Monserrat the eloquent soloist), adroitly interweaves the choir and four soloists in Adoro te devote and gently distils the deeply felt emotions of the ‘Ave Maria’ from Three Latin motets. He consistently prioritises warmly blended tone and refinement of delivery, occasionally at the expense of spontaneity and vigour.
Also included in the programme is McDowall’s O Antiphon sequence, a set of seven pieces for solo organ. These range widely in mood from the elusive, flickering opening of ‘O Sapientia’ to the brilliant extroversion of ‘O Clavis David’, and are vividly played by Alexander Hamilton, a former Trinity organ scholar who is now assistant director of music at Wells Cathedral. He plays the organ at St George’s, Windsor, where the recorded sound is just as good as in Trinity Chapel.