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Regina Caeli

Regina Caeli cover picture

The Chapel Choir of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

Director: Daniel Soper and Rebecca Drake
Bring us, O Lord God William Harris
Phos Hilaron (Song of the Light) Andrew March
Sub tuum praesidium Tarik O'Regan
Ave Maria Anton Bruckner
Joys Seven arr. Stephen Cleobury
A Hymn to the Virgin Benjamin Britten
Ave Maris Stella Edvard Grieg
Nunc Dimittis Andrew March
Presentation of Christ in the Temple Johannes Eccard
Magnificat Andrew March
Ave Maria Igor Stravinsky
O vos omnes Carlo Gesualdo
Be still and know Andrew March
Marian Antiphon No. 3 Andrew March
Spiritus Andrew March
Faire is the Heaven William Harris
A Song of Revelation Andrew March
Totus Tuus Henryk Górecki

Total playing time 67m 35s

Regina Caeli

Regina Caeli

Bring us, O Lord God Words by John Donne (1572-1631) Music by William Harris (1883-1973)

Richly scored, William H. Harris' Bring us O Lord God sets words by the metaphysical poet John Donne with an almost metaphysical sense of harmony. The second of his two motets for double choir, both written in the key of D-flat major, this work displays much of Harris' characteristic word-painting and also his flair for choral writing, showing the influence of his education at the Royal College of Music and having been organist at New College and Christ Church, Oxford.

Phos Hilaron (Song of the Light) Words: Ancient Christian Hymn Music by Andrew March (b. 1973)

Educated at the Royal College of Music from 1992 to 1996 and a former winner of a Royal Philharmonic Society composition prize, Andrew March's considerable skill as an orchestral composer is clearly demonstrated in this work. Displaying much of the luminous sound-world of Harris' motet, the theme of light, though not the major theme of this CD, is continued in March's setting of the Ancient Christian Hymn Phos Hilaron – 'Song of the Light'. Although mainly homophonic in texture, March's ambitonality, spaciousness of arrangement and rhythmic intensity, particularly in the opening few bars, create an attractive and highly innovative style.

Sub tuum praesidium Words: Ancient Prayer (c. 250 AD) Music by Tarik O'Regan (b. 1978)

Given Tarik O'Regan's flourishing reputation as a composer of sacred choral music, it is no surprise that this passacaglia in memoriam is both sensitively and innovatively written, combining transparent harmony with a mellifluent melodic language. Educated at New College, Oxford, sometime composer in residence at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and holder of the Fulbright Chester Schirmer Fellowship in Music Composition at Columbia University and a Radcliffe Institute Fellowship at Harvard University, O'Regan brings his considerable academic pedigree to this carefully constructed motet, a work whose text is a Marian prayer. Originally commissioned by Corpus Christi College, Cambridge for a reunion of former Choral and Organ scholars, it is fitting that its first recording should be by current Choral and Organ scholars of the College.

Ave Maria Words from Luke 1 Music by Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)

If Bruckner is seen only within the tradition of the Germanic Romantic school then one runs the risk of ignoring the deep spiritual motivation which, like Bach before him, provided the major impetus behind his musical career. Influenced by his monastic education and maintained through his career as a church musician, the expression of soli Deo gratias is seen at its greatest, some might say, in his series of motets, each one a masterpiece of miniaturist expression. Unlike the previous two works, Bruckner's harmony is conventional, though his range of dynamic expression and simple choral writing creates a spacious sense of beauty, appropriate, perhaps, to its Marian theme.

Joys Seven Words: Traditional arr. Stephen Cleobury

Narrating the life of Jesus, the text of this traditional carol continues the Marian theme of the recording by describing the events from Mary's perspective, delineated as her Joys Seven: the birth of Jesus Christ, his curing of the lame, curing of the blind, his reading of the Bible 'o'er', his bringing of the dead alive, his crucifixion and his resurrection, wearing the 'crown of heaven'. Although better known as Director of Music at King's College, Cambridge, Stephen Cleobury is also a composer and arranger of choral music of considerable skill, as can be heard here in this lively and attractive arrangement. The only accompanied work on this recording, Cleobury creates a variety of textures and colours, varying the traditional melody and gradually building up to the climactic final verse.

A Hymn to the Virgin Words: Anon (c.1300) Music by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)

A Hymn to the Virgin is a good example of Britten's highly distinctive choral canon. Written for choir and semi-chorus, contrasting the more homogeneous sound of the English verses with the single voices of the Latin text, it creates a sense of call-and-response reinforcing the feeling that this is a hymn and not an anthem or motet. Despite Britten being a twentieth-century composer, his harmony is mostly conventional, maintaining his reputation as being 'eclectically conservative'.

Ave Maris Stella Words: Anon (8th C.) Music by Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

Choral music does not feature widely in Edvard Grieg's oeuvre, especially not of the sacred variety, but his gift for sweeping melodies, such as in his famous Piano Concerto, is certainly in evidence here. Again this is very much a miniature, just two verses linked by sections for upper and lower voices in which previous lines of the text are repeated. The text, revering Mary as 'star of the sea' reflects the delicacy of Grieg's writing, particularly in the phrases for soprano and alto, the soaring lines of the First Soprano line reflecting the ethereal quality of the words.

Nunc Dimittis Words from Luke 2:29-32 Music by Andrew March (b. 1973)

Andrew March's Nunc Dimittis is the first of the pieces dedicated to Corpus Christi College, inspired by hearing the choir sing during a service at Salisbury Cathedral in the summer of 2004. Still maintaining his idiosyncratic harmonic language, the texture is more homophonic than some of his other pieces, although he sometimes emphasises the text with syncopation. March aims for an atmosphere of optimism in his piece, though it is more stillness that pervades, particularly in the gradual build-up to the Gloria. As a direct response to the Salisbury service, March hopes to capture the bright, youthful tone of the choir.

Presentation of Christ in the Temple Words translated by J. Troutbeck Music by Johannes Eccard (1553-1611)

Eccard's anthem takes as its subject the Song of Simeon, complementing the Nunc Dimittis before it. The text translated by The Rev'd J. Troutbeck concerns the presentation of Christ in the Temple by Mary, and Simeon's prophecy that he is 'the hope of Israel'. Johannes Eccard sang under Lassus at the Munich Court and became Kappelmeister under Margrave Georg Friedrich of Prussia. He is best known for his hymn tunes and anthems, and foreshadowed Bach by using musical expression to convey the meaning of the text. This can be particularly seen in this work, such as the dynamic contrast between 'may gently fall asleep' and 'with thee wake', and the dotted, almost lullaby-like rhythm of 'may gently fall asleep.'

Magnificat Words from Luke 1:47-55 Music by Andrew March (b. 1973)

Like the Nunc Dimittis before it, this canticle by Andrew March does not form part of an Evening Service but is a completely independent piece. Originally written for Dr. Jo-Michael Scheibe, Director of Choral Studies at the University of Miami, unfortunate circumstances owing to the spate of devastating hurricanes in the State of Florida meant that the piece went unperformed. Although originally lacking a Gloria, this was later added to enable liturgical performance. This piece, a more polyphonic work, possesses a capricious and lightly flowing quality.

Ave Maria Words from Luke 1 Music by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

In comparison to the majority of Stravinky's output, this Ave Maria is both rhythmically and harmonically simple, although its simplicity in many ways adds to its beauty. The influence of the Russian Orthodox Church is clearly evident in this work, particularly in its vocal writing and its homophonic texture. Despite its relatively conventional harmony, Stravinsky adds a characteristic touch by writing his 'Amen' in A-major although the majority of the piece is in C major. This device is also used in his Symphony of Psalms where in the first movement there is a similar contrast between E minor and G major.

O vos omnes Words from Lamentations 1:12 Music by Carlo Gesualdo (1560-1613)

Famous for having murdered his wife, Maria d'Avalos, and her lover having caught them in flagrante, this traumatic incident in Gesualdo's life affected his composition, particularly contributing to its dissonant harmony and chromatic melody. Its placing after the Ave Maria is particularly apposite given Stravinsky's admiration for Gesualdo, a composer who suffered greatly from depression bordering on masochistic melancholia. Like Eccard, Gesualdo is unusual for his time, using his music to convey the meaning of the text, especially in the opening call to 'O vos omnes', the dramatic chords and graduating dynamics forming a vibrant call to attention.

Be still and know Words adapted from Psalm 46 by Neil Shackleton Music by Andrew March (b. 1973)

'Reassurance from the voice that brings peace' is how Andrew March describes the message of this anthem's text. With words from Psalm 46, the piece starts with calm and stillness, achieved through the use of a very slow tempo, portraying the only moment in the Psalm where God himself speaks: 'Be Still and Know that I am God'. This then changes to a more fragmented polyphonic section, reflecting the tempestuous nature of the words, 'though waters roar and mountains fall into the midst of the sea'; the choir then unite to sing 'The Lord Almighty is with us'. The opening mood returns once more to close the anthem with its opening statement: 'Be still and Know that I am God'.

Marian Antiphon No. 3 Music by Andrew March (b. 1973)

Andrew March's final bespoke piece for Corpus Christi College Choir, the choice of text for this piece was inspired by the dual dedication of the College, properly The College of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Having looked carefully at all four of the Marian Antiphons, March was drawn to the text of the third of the Evening Vespers, since in the Regina Caeli, the reiteration of the 'Alleluias' offered an obvious structure for the piece. The motet is in eight parts, producing a strong, thickly-voiced sonority and distinct quasi-Orthodox sound, partly due to the tenors and basses being sempre divisi.

Spiritus Words from John 3:8 Music by Andrew March (b. 1973)

Nicodemus' famous nocturnal conversation with Jesus (St. John 3:8) forms the inspiration for this anthem, March using only a single verse reflecting a minimalist aspect of his music. This anthem is written for a Cathedral acoustic, where the fragmented, overlapping and dissonant phrases can echo around the building in the bar rests which March leaves for precisely this effect. In the composer's words, 'I wanted to create a choral anthem...where quite literally the listener can hear wispy gestures or strands, like a breath of air, but they cannot quite discern where the sound is coming from or where it is going to'.

Faire is the Heaven Words by Edmund Spenser (c.1552-1599) Music by William Harris (1883-1973)

Contrasting with the spaciousness and fragmented feel of 'Spiritus', Faire is the Heaven has a more intense atmosphere, the changing time-signatures and keys reflecting Edmund Spenser's expressive words. Harris' masterful choral writing creates a great sense of momentum, particularly in the fast sections where the overlapping choirs spur each other on to the allargando climax of the piece: 'These then in faire each other farre excelling'. Taught by Charles Wood and Walford Davies and drawing on Parry's 'Songs of Farewell', Harris' opulent Romanticism reaches its apogee in this piece, his melodic and harmonic talents exploited to the full. Indeed, some might say that in this case Harris' 'mortall tongue' more than 'hope[s] to expresse the image of such endlesse perfectnesse'.

A Song of Revelation Words from Revelation 4:11, 5:9b-10 Music by Andrew March (b. 1973)

In this canticle, March combines verses of the prophetic texts of Revelation 4:11 and 5:9b -10. The piece is freely notated, without bar-lines or meter, and much of the rhythm is left to the discretion of the conductor. A reprise in the form of a short coda ends the piece quoting the ancillary text: 'To the One who sits on the throne and to the Lamb...'

Totus Tuus Words by Maria Boguslawska Music by Henryk Górecki (b. 1933)

Specially commissioned for the visit of Pope John Paul II to his homeland of Poland in June 1987, this piece, with words by Maria Boguslawska, ends the disc confirming strongly its Marian theme, the opening four bars exclaiming 'Maria, Maria! Maria, Maria!' Altthough Górecki is known internationally as a leading figure of the Polish avant-garde movement, this piece owes more to the music of the Orthodox Church than to modernism, especially in its repetitive phrases and homophonic texture.

Francis Letschka
Cambridge 2005

The Chapel Choir of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

The College of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary was founded in 1352 and is one of the oldest Colleges in the University of Cambridge. The chapel choir is made up of students (some Choral Scholars, some volunteers) from across the University studying a wide range of subjects and sings for three services a week during term time. It has until now been rehearsed, directed and accompanied solely by the two undergraduate Organ Scholars, which made it an attractive college for organ scholars wishing to develop their conducting skills. As of 2005, the College has appointed a Director of Music to oversee the running of the choir and to ensure that high standards continue through successive years, as well as encouraging music outside chapel. There are annual choir tours, going abroad every three years, and the choir has been to Prague, Venice and U.S.A. in recent years, as well as to Salisbury and Bristol Cathedrals.

Daniel Soper

Daniel Soper was born in Croydon in 1983 and was a chorister at Canterbury Cathedral from the age of eight. Whilst completing his A-levels at Trinity School, Croydon, he was Organ Scholar at Croydon Parish Church, and he spent his Gap Year at Chelmsford Cathedral as Organ Scholar.

This CD marks the end of Daniel's three years as Organ Scholar of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge where he read for a Music Degree. He is now Assistant Organist of Winchester College, and it is his intention to pursue a career in Cathedral music. He is an Associate of the Royal College of Organists.

As well as the Organ, Daniel plays the Tuba, having outgrown both the Cornet and Trombone. Aside from music, he enjoys using computers and creating websites.

Rebecca Drake

Rebecca Drake was born in 1985. She started learning the organ whilst at Wimbledon High School, where she also won the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music Sheila Mossmann Prize for the piano and was awarded the DipABRSM. Rebecca sings and plays the violin, and enjoys playing in and conducting the Corpus Christi College Orchestra. After completing her law degree at Corpus Christi College, where she is also Organ Scholar, Rebecca hopes to train to become a barrister. Aside from music and law, Rebecca is a keen rider and enjoys polo.

Recorded in the Chapel of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge on 21st and 22nd March 2005 by kind permission of the Master and Fellows

Produced by Philip White-Jones
Recorded and edited by Lance Andrews
Photograph: Michael Derringer