All the Ends of the Earth: Contemporary & Medieval Vocal Music

In some cases it is a modern use of modality and chant-like figuration; in some cases a modern adaptation of earlier formal structures; in still other cases the relationship emerges in the new use of early texts and cantus firmus melodies; and in yet other instances, the relationship is a less concrete one, rooted in a spiritual affinity between modern composer and her earlier counterpart. The music of Arvo P‰rt and James MacMillan immediately come to mind, and it is no surprise that both of these composers have been significantly associated with early music performers: P‰rt with Paul Hillier and MacMillan with The Sixteen.
ìAll the Ends of the Earth,î this recent recording from the Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, celebrates this relationship with an array of compositions by modern composers from the UK (Judith Weir, James Weeks, Bayan Northcutt, Michael Finnissy, Robin Holloway, Jonathan Harvey, and Gabriel Jackson), paired with diverse works from early English and Scottish sources. Of the modern pieces, Weirís ìAll the Ends of the Earthî and Jacksonís ìThomas, Jewel of Canterburyî are exceptionally impressive. The former, based on Perotinusís famous ìViderunt,î retains the chant structure and layered texture of the organum, and brings to it new upper-voice counterpoint with intricate ornamental figuration. The latter sets a commemorative text in praise of Archbishop Thomas Becket (one of two texts in the original fourteenth-century motet; the other text is in honor of another Thomas, a martyred monk of Dover), and does so with tone clusters, a richly ornamental linear style, interesting canonic interplay, and shimmering effects.
The early works range from the Winchester Troper and the famous thirteenth-century St. Andrews Manuscript to John Dunstableís fifteenth-century declamatory motet, ìQuam pulchra es.î The range of pieces gives a fair idea of things that are being echoed in the modern works, though one wonders why, when some of the models are so specific, those particular works are passed by. The absence of ìVideruntî (Weir) and the fourteenth-century ìThomas gemma Cantuarieî (Jackson) is a lost opportunity, and one of the very few regrets in this excellent recording.
The performances here are extremely well prepared. The difficulty of much of the modern writing presents enormous challenges to the performers, and the choir meets them with unflagging confidence and expert control of difficult harmonies, complicated rhythms, and intricate figuration. On occasion one might wish for a greater brilliance of treble toneóit would well serve the color and dynamism of much of the writingóbut in the end, the lingering impression is one of very satisfying and accomplished ensemble singing. High praise for that, and high praise for a program that does not recycle the ìtried and true.î
Steven Plank

image_description=All the Ends of the Earth: Contemporary & Medieval Vocal Music
product_title=All the Ends of the Earth: Contemporary & Medieval Vocal Music
product_by=The Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge; William Towers Countertenor; Geoffrey Webber, Director
product_id=Signum Classics SIGCD070 [CD]