Sospiri: A Multitude of Voices


Choral repertoire for remembrance, performed by Sospiri and Christopher Watson.

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About this release

The project was conceived to add substantially to the choral repertoire for remembrance and to mark the centenary of the outbreak of war with a collection that offered a broader view of the war, reaching beyond the dichotomy of war is noble/war is hell. Composers were asked to look outside the poetical canon and consider texts by women, neglected poets and writers in languages other than English, resulting in a collection of personal responses to texts that the composers picked themselves.


This project was conceived in 2011, shortly after we finished recording our CD of Lamentations. We had already touched on the World War I theme in our Requiem disc of 2009, which included my settings of World War I texts by well-known English poets, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Isaac Rosenberg and Ivor Gurney.

We decided to build on this, and our aim for the new project was twofold. First, we wanted to add substantially to the choral repertoire for remembrance. Second, we wanted to mark the centenary of the outbreak of war with a collection that offered a broader view of the war, reaching beyond the dichotomy of war is noble/war is hell.

For this reason we asked the composers to look outside the poetical canon and consider texts by women, neglected poets and writers in languages other than English. In conceiving the scope of this disc, the Imperial War Museum’s Forgotten Voices series was a valuable resource. It contains thousands of choral accounts from all theatres of war, full of humour, guilt, horror and wisdom. For my own work, I found Tim Cross’ The Lost Voices of World War I, which uncovers a broad cross-section of writers from most of the participant nations, to be an excellent resource. What we have arrived at is a collection of personal responses to texts that the composers picked themselves.

Most of the male poets featured here died on the Western Front, although Apollinaire perished in Paris in the influenza epidemic, and Stramm was killed on the Eastern Front. We get an insight into the extraordinary courage of the nurse, Edith Cavell, and a view of the Home Front from Charlotte Mew.

We live in a different age now. Interestingly, four of the new pieces use texts by Edward Thomas, highlighting the regard in which he is now held. Perhaps, more than any other, he gives us a glimpse into another world.

Cities, countryside, clothing, technology and social institutions may have changed beyond recognition, but what links us still are stories, music, language and memory.

(John Duggan, 2014)

About the artists

Christopher Watson

Christopher Watson studied music at Exeter University, and went on to hold Lay Clerkships at Durham Cathedral, Christ Church Oxford and Westminster Cathedral. He has over twenty years’ experience of singing at the highest level and has worked with many of the finest choral directors in the world. He is also an accomplished singing teacher and has a burgeoning reputation as a director and conductor.

Christopher’s conducting experience started in Exeter, where he ran the University Chapel Choir, and he went on to run Durham University Chamber Choir and the Arcadian Singers of Oxford. He has taught on the Tallis Scholars Summer School, leading consort workshops and directing Compline. Since 2006 he has run the Oxford-based choir, Sospiri. Under his direction, Sospiri have performed in the UK, France and Italy, and recorded five CDs to critical acclaim. The choir have also become recognised for their performances of plainsong: including a reconstructed pre-Reformation Vespers and Compline in Oxford, and the complete Tridentine Rite for Holy Week in Trieste. Sospiri sing Latin Vespers every term in Merton College, Oxford. Christopher’s interests stretch from Medieval repertoire to contemporary music, and Sospiri have given several premieres, most notably works by John Duggan, the choir’s co-founder.

Recent solo performances have included Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with Le Concert Lorrain, his Köthener Trauermusick with the Lautten Compagney, broadcast by Deutschlandfunk, and Purcell’s Ode for St Cecilia in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam with the Gabrieli Consort. He has given many performances of the Evangelist role in Bach’s St John and St Matthew Passions – most recently in Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford and Manchester Cathedral. 2007 saw his debut in Carnegie Hall with Theatre of Voices, giving the World Premiere of David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion, which subsequently won a Pulitzer Prize. He has performed this piece all over the world, including the Perth Festival in Australia and the Festival Internacional Cervantino in Guanajuata in Mexico. The Theatre of Voices recording of The Little Match Girl Passion won a Grammy Award in January, 2010.

Other engagements include the first performance of The Stones of the Arch by Gavin Bryars with the Kronos Quartet, Monteverdi’s Vespers in Tuscany with Philippe Herreweghe, and in Scandanavia with Paul Hillier and Concerto Copenhagen. He has made more than 50 recordings, including several of Dufay and Josquin, the Schütz Resurrection History with Ars Nova Copenhagen, Lassus motets with Philippe Herreweghe, the Bach Motets with Sette Voci and the 1575 Cantiones Sacrae of Tallis and Byrd with Alamire. With Theatre of Voices he has performed Stockhausen’s Stimmung, and also toured a programme of the music of Arvo Pärt – recorded for Harmonia Mundi in June, 2010.

Christopher is a member of The Tallis Scholars (with whom he has made more than 250 appearances), Tenebrae, Gallicantus and the Gramophone Award winning ensembles, The Clerks’ Group and The Binchois Consort.


Sospiri is an Oxford-based amateur choir, formed in 2006 by composer John Duggan and singer Christopher Watson. They met singing in Magdala, David Skinner’s mixed voice choir at Magdalen College, and quickly discovered a shared passion for Gregorian Chant which had been kindled during their time in Westminster Cathedral Choir – John was a boy chorister there under Colin Mawby, and Christopher a lay clerk more recently under James O’donnell and Martin Baker. The original members of the choir all came from within the ranks of Magdala. Some, like Susanna Fairbairn, have gone on to sing professionally, and the membership has gradually increased so that now people travel to Oxford from Birmingham, Edinburgh, London and Kent to take part in Sospiri projects.

Their discography includes A Multitude of Voices [CR026] and Gloria [cr033] for Convivium Records, a collection of Lamentations on the Naxos label and Requiem, a disc containing among other things John Duggan’s original set of six WWI pieces, which is available on The Gift of Music label. Sospiri has a particular focus on juxtaposing old pieces with newly written ones, with the unifying thread of texts connecting them. The choir performs concerts regularly in Oxford, has toured France and Italy, and for several years has sung a termly Latin Vespers in the chapel of Merton College, their service from January 2014 being broadcast worldwide by the European Broadcasting Union.

CD Booklet
  • Three Songs Of Remembrance - 1914 IV: The Dead (Rupert Brooke) - David Bednall
  • Three Songs Of Remembrance - Lights Out (Edward Thomas) - David Bednall
  • Three Songs Of Remembrance - May, 1915 (Charlotte Mew) - David Bednall
  • Standing As I Do Before God (Seán Street-Edith Cavell) - Cecilia McDowall
  • Trois Chansons De Guerre - La Grace Exilée (Guillaume Apollinaire) - Frank Ferko
  • Trois Chansons De Guerre - Les Feux Du Bivouac (Guillaume Apollinaire) - Frank Ferko
  • Trois Chansons De Guerre - L'Adieu Du Cavalier (Guillaume Apollinaire) - Frank Ferko
  • The Empty Page (Wilfred Owen & John Duggan) - John Duggan
  • If I Live (Tom Kettle) - Colin Mawby
  • As It Was (Edward & Helen Thomas) - John Duggan
  • Pain (Ivor Gurney) - Richard Allain
  • Urtod (August Stramm) - John Duggan
  • Rain (Edward Thomas) - Alexander L'Estrange
  • Sentinel (Edward Thomas-Isaac Rosenberg) - Francis Pott
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Catalogue number: CR026

Choir Sospiri
Soprano Susanna Fairborn
Fournier Trio Chiao-Ying Chang, Sulki Yu & Pei-Jee Ng
Conductor Christopher Watson

Cover Image Geoff J Harris
Photography Various
Engineering Andrew Mellor
Editing John Duggan
Mastering Adaq Khan
Producer Andrew Mellor, John Duggan, Christopher Watson
Creative Director John Duggan
Executive Producer Adrian Green

Recorded 2014
Venue St John the Evangelist, Oxford
Total Duration 62 mins

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