This is beautiful music, beautifully recorded and beautifully sung. The Choir of Royal Holloway sounds like one of the top professional choirs, Presentation is good, but bear in mind booklet notes are via QR code.
The composer, George Arthur (full name, George Arthur Richford, born 1985), is published by a number of top names in the industry and is known for his choral works. Recorded in the perfectly balanced acoustic of St Alban the Mattyr, Birmingham, it begins with From Dust, a serious meditation in which the slow elevation of the music is perfectly judged by both composer and choir; diction is perfect.
The Missa Brevis is beautifully constructed. The “Kyrie” exhibits rhythms that are buoyant like a coiled spring, while the Gloria (which begins with single-line chant) is markedly lyrical, with particular beauty around the “Suscipe”. After a radiant “Amen”, the Sanctis and Benedictus (bound together) begins with hypnotic repetitions of the word “sanctus”; there is something vaguely Stravinskian about this. The choir keeps up the concentration, while phrasing the “hosanna” with the utmost sensitivity. Finally, the “Agnus Dei”, set to a falling phrase expanded by the setting of the “qui tollis peccata mundi”.
A nice touch to juxtapose Ave Maris Stella with Ave Maria. The first exudes peace, while the nearly 11-minute setting of Ave Maria achieves its sense of near-stasis through spectacular breath control from the Royal Holloway singers.
The disc takes its name from All Angels, a piece with juxtaposed contrasts that animate the music’s surface. The Friday Service consists of a beautifully balanced “Magnificat” and “Nunc dimittis,” hushed ”Nunc” particularly impressive.
If I find One in Christ lower in inspiration, it is nice to have the Three Christmas Carols (“Of a Maiden,” “Sesanni,” “Baulalow”).. Certainly “Of a Maiden” is not a fluffy, warm-glow of a carol, but one with destabilzing elements (the dissonances are I am sure not as easy as the choir here makes them sound; and the purity of the sopranos near the end is remarkable). The second, “Susanni” has something of Britten about it in its dancing rhythms, while the final “Balulalow” is an intriguing lullaby, almost hesitant at times. When the tecxturethinst o two parts, one almost unmoving, the effect is arresting, to say the least. This particular chapter of the twofer ends with a well-sprung My Dancing Day, full of contrasts.
The ten parts of Speciosa close out the recording. This is Arthur at his most rarefied, the harp adding a silvery sheen to the music. That soprano purity elevates the third Speciosa; the harmonic glow of the fifth, the superb harp solo which comprises the sixth (Beer taking all the time in the world, and rightly), the suppressed choral cry of the seventh, the exuberance of the ninth and the sophistication of the dissonances of the tenth all conspire to create a notable cycle.