For its 2013 tour of Mexico, The Choir of Oxford presents a varied programme of unaccompanied sacred choral works. All of the music is by composers associated with the city of Oxford, a place where choral music has been a dominant force for 500 years. The whole of the second half is given over to Hubert Parry‘s masterful Songs of Farewell. These splendid and ambitious settings of various poets were written at the end of Parry’s life and are a most moving summation of the Edwardian age and his own career, much of which was spent in Oxford, firstly as a student and later as the influential professor of music.
The first half of the programme intersperses recent compositions with well known English renaissance masterpieces. Thomas Weelkes was awarded the Oxford BMus degree in 1602. He was a fine madrigalist and his When David heard is famous for its wrenching harmonies and musically desolate interpretation of the text. John Sheppard directed the choir at Magdalen College in the 1540′s. Libera nos, Salva nos is one of his most serene pieces. Later the organist of Westminster Abbey, Orlando Gibbons was born in Oxford in 1583. He was admitted to the doctor of Oxford degree in 1622 and it is thought his O Clap your Hands was performed at the doctorate ceremony.
Giles Swayne wrote his Magnificat for the choir of Christ Church Cathedral in the early 1980′s, and with its arresting use of a Senegalese song call and detailed textures of pointillistic rhythms, this unique setting has entered the repertoire of many choirs in Britain and has become a modern classic. Oculi Omnium by James Burton is a setting of the college grace of Brasenose College, and was composed for an event in 2009 hosted by one of their most well known graduates, the now British Prime Minister David Cameron. The Scottish composer James MacMillan is one of the world’s leading living musical thinkers and many of his choral works have entered the repertory. Bring Us, O Lord God is a simple and prayer-like setting of John Donne’s beautiful words. Matthew Martin is a recent graduate of Magdalen College and is becoming well known for his approachable yet challenging choral works. Ecce concipies is a brief and brilliant setting of the proclamation to Mary “Behold thou shalt bear a son”.
Celebrating Benjamin Britten‘s centenary, the first half concludes with his colourful setting of W. H. Auden’s paean to the god of music Hymn to St Cecilia.
Giles Swayne Magnificat
Thomas Weelkes When David heard
James Burton Oculi Omnium
John Sheppard Libera nos, Salva nos I
James MacMillan Bring us, O Lord God
Orlando Gibbons O Clap your hands
Matthew Martin Ecce concipies
Benjamin Britten Hymn to St Cecilia
Hubert Parry Songs of Farewell
i My Soul, there is a country
ii I know my soul hath power to know all things
iii Never weather-beaten sail
iv There is an old belief
v At the round earth’s imagined corners
vi Lord, let me know mine end
Programme notes ©James Burton