The multi-award-winning composer-conductor George Arthur (Richford) has enjoyed several collaborations with the Choir of Royal Holloway, who are ideal ambassadors for his evocative music. This two-disc set provides a wonderful survey of his impressively varied choral compositions, ranging in scope from a setting of the Mass to short, playful Christmas carols.
Arthur’s four-part Missa Brevis showcases wonderfully controlled a cappella singing from the outset, with consistently impeccable attack and blend. The title track, ‘All Angels’, in the composer’s own words, uses an ‘unusual detached technique of dynamics and dissonance to create a feeling of intensity.’ The same could be said of his Friday Service, which is a fine addition to the growing repertoire of contemporary Anglican canticle settings.
Of particular note in this recording is the ten-movement Speciosa for upper voices and harp, written as a response to Britten’s celebrated Ceremony of Carols. The piece sets the voices in distanced groups, who sing verses from the Stabat Mater speciosa sequence. English carols are interspersed, inspired by Medieval and Renaissance English texts. Cecily Beer’s harp accompaniment is a perfect partner to the accomplished voices; Speciosa VI, rather like Britten’s Interlude, provides a perfect platform for her understated virtuosity.
The Choir of Royal Holloway are on impressive form, with voices that seem equally at home as soloists as they are within an ensemble. Rupert Gough achieves a wonderful blend and sense of atmosphere throughout the recording, and creates a fitting tribute to this talented composer. Highly recommended.