The same performing forces on the recently reviewed Requiem of Dan Locklair gathered again in Christchurch Priory, Dorset, UK, last July to record a very different setting of the Mass. The talented British composer Matthew Coleridge hoped to communicate “an uplifting, life-affirming” musical quality inspired by the birth of his first child. “Whilst I was setting texts about passing from one life to the next, here was this effervescent new life, often in the same room with me whilst I composed,” he shares in his elucidating liner notes. A solo cello plays an important role throughout each movement, possibly representing a soul gently leaving this life or serving as a voice of comfort. The sensitive playing by Maxim Calver supports either interpretation.
The Kyrie is distinctive, with a tenor drum assisting the dramatic swell of the string orchestra. Then the Offertory interweaves plainsong for the singers over a droning low C from the double basses with calming melodic fragments from the cello. The warm voice of baritone soloist Andrew Thompson emerges from this backdrop for Hostias et preces tibi Domine, representing prayers offered on behalf of the departed.
To my ear, the standout movement is the Agnus Dei. The interaction between the choir and the solo cello is simply beautiful, and here is where the promise of new life and the sense of hope that the composer intended is most strongly felt. After the concluding Lacrimosa (also quite stunning with gorgeous singing by soprano soloist Karin Dahlberg), a piece for strings and solo cello entitled And There Was Light moves the listener into the next grouping of sacred texts.
Mr. Coleridge’s Stabat Mater Dolorosa setting is spellbinding, employing parallel motion and an achingly slow crescendo representing a mother’s grief. Finessed a cappella work by the Choir of Royal Holloway sets up a moment of anguish on the word Mater as the organ joins in and Mary fully and mournfully absorbs her role as mother of the Savior of the world. This six-and-a-half-minute work definitely merits the attention of church musicians and conductors of college and professional choirs.
The recording closes with a Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis that many AAM members will most likely find useful. Organists will have a good time with the sprightly toccata-like accompaniment in the early verses and the Gloria, and it’s gratifying to have Mary represented again – this time in her joyful, humble state of mind as she anticipates the birth of Jesus. The Nunc Dimittis is appealing, too; the composer’s voicing and the choir’s intonation on the word “light” literally shine! I would expect the set is also fulfilling to rehearse and learn.
Maestro Rupert Gough has worked his usual magic with the university’s choir, and organists George Nichols and Simon Earl are excellent collaborators. The strings of Southern Sinfonia have clearly earned their excellent reputation, and the group continues to enjoy its residence at Queen’s College in Taunton, Somerset. Again, Mr. Coleridge’s masterfully written Composer’s Notes are almost as moving as the music itself. The recording quality is superb, and the disc comes highly recommended.