Charpentier has emerged from the shadows in recent times thanks to the advocacy of Les Arts Florissants, whose title indeed is taken from a work by the composer. It's tricky music to pull off, and Charpentier himself does not always make it easy. But the view that he is the most accomplished French composer of sacred music of the seventeenth century is impossible to refute. And not just because of the considerable quantity of his motets, canticles, masses, histoires sacrées, etc., but because among them are works of remarkable imagination and technical accomplishment. We have chosen three such works for this New College release (now available from our shop). The most substantial is the 'oratorio' Caecilia virgo et martyr. It recounts the sensational story of Caecilia's determination to face death rather than give in to Almachius' threats. There is a strong operatic character to the work, not only in the presence of dramatis personae, but also in the set pieces (Caecilia's pompe funèbre, and then the rejouissement surrounding her elevation to the status of martyr). The music - as befits a piece commemorating the patron saint of music - is on a lavish scale, double orchestra and double chorus. Charpentier is no slouch, even writing a concertato part for the grands jeux of the organ in the final chorus, an effect we accomplished by superimposing the sonority of the magnificent Aubertin organ of St John's Oxford (played of course a tone lower to fit the low French pitch) on the recording made in quite another place! The other two pieces are substantial motets, Conserva me Domine from the last years of Charpentier's career when he was director of music at La Sainte Chapelle, and the fantastic setting of De Profundis, written by Charpentier to mark the ceremonies surrounding the death of Marie-Thèrese, Louis XIV's queen. In both these works, Charpentier reaches a level of inspiration which places him alongside the greats of the French baroque. This recording continues the involvement of New College Choir in this tradition. EH 31.08.13
The Choir's centenary recording has been awarded the prestigious
Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik.
In the words of the jury:
"If it did not have such ominous connotations of something overly slick and tedious, there would be only one word for this edition of Benjamin Britten’s spiritual choral music: flawless. Under its conductor Edward Higginbottom, the Choir of New College Oxford – a boys’ choir of an exceptional standard – sings not only with instinctive beauty, but also with a lyrical impetus which allows the music itself to breathe. Represented are, amongst others, such wonderful a cappella works as the exultant ‘Hymn to St. Cecilia’, the profoundly intoxicating ‘Ceremony of Carols’, the spirited ‘Rejoice in the Lamb’ and the entrancing Missa Brevis in D. Once again, Britten’s talent for composing in a grandiose bel canto style without losing harmonic and contrapuntal charm shines through. For fans of choral music and those in search of religious choral writing, this recording is essential – though for the latter it sets a high bar!" (Für die Jury: Wolfram Goertz) Translation: Sasha Ockenden
BENJAMIN BRITTEN: THE SACRED CHORAL MUSIC
2 CD anthology by New College Choir
launches celebration of Britten's centenary
Click here to order from our shop.
The discs are being despatched from the factory on Monday. Orders placed by Tuesday 18 should arrive by Christmas Day. We will continue to post orders off until 5pm on Friday 21 December.
New CD available September
Update 3/9 Nelson Mass released NOW
After introducing the public to the exquisite if esoteric world of the motets by François Couperin (NCR1384), New College Choir passes now to repertory with which we are wholly familiar: Haydn's Nelson Mass. But the unfamiliar also figures. The scoring used is Haydn's original primary-coloured orchestration for strings and trumpets. This brings to the performance an arguably more characterful sound-world than when the woodwinds are employed (after the first edition by Breitkopf & Härtel). In addition, we source the solo voices from the Choir, making the vocal ensemble fully cohesive with the chorus. This makes complete sense for the alto, tenor and bass soloists, whose technical demands are no more exacting that the chorus parts. But it raises questions for the soprano solo part, written for a singer of a very different cut. Here, New College sticks to its belief in the capacity of boys (some boys at least) to measure up to the highest demands of vocal artistry. You won't find another recording which so fully celebrates the capacity of a boys' choir to scale this particular summit.
The motet 'Insanae et vanae curae', contemporary with the Mass, and occupying the same dramatic world, is sung as an Offertory motet. The scoring of the motet has been adapted to the scoring of the Mass: woodwinds have been excised and in their place the organ (as in the Nelson Mass) provides the figurations otherwise lost.
Here is the first track: Kyrie
Gramophone Magazine have reviewed our disc Exultent Superi - a recent disc of solo Couperin Motets by the Soloists of New College Oxford. Read on for the full review...
Higginbottom returns to his favoured French repertoire
Considering that in his three Lecons de ténèbres he produced an unsurpassed gem of Baroque vocal music, it is surprising that Couperin's petits motets for one or more solo voices and continuo (sometimes with violins as well) have never attracted greater interest.While they do not inhabit the same soul-searching territory - the nine works on this disc include hymns to the holy virgins Susannah and Cecilia, four elevation motets and a psalm - they show all the elegant perfection one would expect from this composer.
As Edward Higginbottom points out, their style is unmistakenly French while also being influenced by the formal balance and controlled harmonic logic of Corelli's trio sonatas. Lovers of Charpentier's powerful use of chromatic dissonance may thus find Couperin's motets comparatively polite at first but stronger acquaintance reveals that they are never routine, as well able to express the tenderness of the Elevation as the brave, manly tone of O Domine quia refugium. Domine salvum fac regem is set to a gently lilting ground bass, while Ad te levavi oculos meos, for solo bass, traverses several moods with effortless ease of movement. Seven soloists from New College Choir showcase this music with impressive ease. The star turns are some astoundingly assured and mature singing from treble Jonty Ward, delicious haute-contre work from Guy Cutting that ought to ensure interest from other Francophile ensembles, and a fine delivery of Ad te levavi from bass George Coltart, but in truth there are no weakness here, no allowances that have to be made except, perhaps, to wish for more strongly coloured French pronunciation.
An extra treat is that Higginbottom has skilfully reconstructed the missing violin parts of the otherwise unperformable Resonent organa, Ornate aras and Exultent superi, thus releasing these works to modern ears for the first time. Like the performers, they certainly merit the exposure.
Gramophone July 2012
Yesterday the Choir was up early for a trip to BBC Television Centre in London, for we would be performing live on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC1. Choristers and choral scholars gave a performance of John Rutter's The Lord bless you and keep you following brief interviews with director Edward Higginbottom and one of the choristers. Later on in the day it was announced that our new album Illumina: Music of Light had debuted at #6 in the UK classical charts - so a good day all round! Below are some photos from our studio visit.
Recording Illumina in Oxford
Where did it all start? Well before Luther pinched 'Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen' (a secular love song) for a German chorale, which subsequently became the linchpin for the St Matthew Passion. Gounod certainly added to the tradition by adapting Bach's keyboard prelude in C, and making of it an Ave Maria. And Barber confidently added religious words to his Adagio for Strings. What about Mahler and his Adagietto? Perhaps the first thing to say is that the original Adagietto has not somehow been smothered by making of it a choral arrangement. It is still there. The next thing to say is that when composers launch their works on the world, they begin to say goodbye to them. And 75 years after their death they can exercise no further control. Their music then enters the 'public domain'. So we are certainly allowed to view them in new ways. And this we have done in singing Mahler's Fifth Symphony Adagietto to the text 'Ave Maria'. Mahler would have been surprised, I've no doubt. But as a composer who adopted the hymn Veni creator spiritus in his Eighth Symphony, he was not unfamiliar with Christian texts, and their meanings. The question is does such a setting undermine the effect of Mahler's music? Or does it add a possible new layer of identity on the movement? For you the listener to decide. What we can be sure of is that a very present and familiar musical figure of our own time, Barrington Pheloung, has been very happy to have his music transformed, here as a setting of the Gaelic Blessing (in Latin of course to reflect Inspector Morse's leaning towards the classics!). Enjoy! If you like that sort of thing of course...
* One music critic felt ill when listening to the Mahler arrangement. Our audiences have however uniformly liked it. De gustibus non est disputandum.
Recording for Exultent Superi, March 2011
Following BBC Radio 3's selection of our most recent release 'Exultent Superi' as their 'CD of the Week' in November 2011, New College soloists have received another outstanding review for this collection of François Couperin motets – some of which are recorded for the first time. An extract from the five star review, which appears in the March edition of BBC Music Magazine is included below:
'The performance is astonishing. Two New College trebles, aged 11 and 13, sing with a musical maturity and technical focus which I have never heard bettered. Intonation is spot on, with none of that instability (for some winsome, for others unnerving) which often characterises unbroken boys' voices. In the duet 'Lauda Sion Salvatorem' their individually distinctive voices are beautifully matched. No less exceptional is the haute-contre (light high tenor) of Guy Cutting[...] With excellent strings and sympathetic recording this is a real revelation.'
***** Performance; **** Recording
George Pratt, BBC Music Magazine
The album can be viewed here.
Update 24/02/12: Exultent Superi wins more critical acclaim from MusicWeb International, who have named the release their 'Recording of the Month'. They say:
'The crystal clear and superbly balanced sound quality is as pleasing as I have heard in a church acoustic. It would be hard to imagine a more gratifying recording of these scores. In all respects this Novum release is quite stunning!'
Read the review here.
Francois Couperin recording as 'CD of the week'. This is welcome recognition of the delight the recording will give to many who had never thought of themselves as afficionados of French baroque music. Couperin's style is extremely accessible, and genial. It will make excellent Christmas listening when you have tired of carols. The CD also contains works never before recorded, and which are now performable through the reconstructions made by Edward Higginbottom, an expert in the field of French baroque music. There are additional pluses to this release: the focus in the digipack on illustrations of College art treasures, and the musical focus on the young soloists of the choir, who sing this music with no less precision and style than seasoned professionals.This week the BBC features our new
St Cecilia’s Day: 22 November. We celebrate it by singing Britten’s Hymn to St Cecilia at evensong (Benjamin Britten himself was born on 22 November). New College Chapel has a permanent reminder of St Cecilia, the patron saint of music. If you walk towards the altar, halfway along on the south side, and on the lower set of lights, you will see a woman playing a lute – not of course the organ with which the saint is ordinarily associated. The colours of the window (by William Price) are a combination of reds, blues and greens with the lute showing a rich brown. Here St Cecilia takes her stand with many other of the great figures of the Church’s history, the patriachs and prophets, the St Catharines and Lucys.
But the chapel iconography does not stop here. On the great east-wall reredos, St Cecilia stands there in stone, on the third gallery of statues, over to the left. She holds a portative organ, as almost invariably shown in early Renaissance pictorial representations. ‘Sound the organ’ – Resonent organa – is the first line of the splendid motet to St Cecilia by Francois Couperin, newly reconstructed and now available on a remarkable New College CD of music by this the greatest of early 18th-century French composers. The CD case and booklet carry a number of images of New College, including both the representations of St Cecilia described above, Price’s window neatly contemporaneous with the music. These images bring Couperin’s works into relationship with the place that has now championed some of his best but also some of his least-known music. For the discerning, this CD will be a revelation, and a great gift. The Novum label continues its tradition of featuring the artworks of New College, as well as presenting the music of its world-class choir. Go to the Shop to order your copy now!