Jackson: Not no faceless Angel (CD Review - BBC Music Magazine, 2009)

Performance *****

Recording *****

Choral pieces which react in very specific ways to verbal and semantic nuance so easily make a bitty and episodic impression. That's emphatically not the case, though, with Gabriel Jackson's 'Not no faceless Angel', which takes a poem on bereavement as its basis. Jackson certainly does ring the changes in the work's ten-minute duration - whispers, quasi Sprechgesang, and virtually full-on shouting in the vocal parts, a solo cello and flute as instruments of accompaniment. And yet the piece is triumphantly holistic in its impact, with some soaring, ecstatic soprano writing particularly catching the ear, and a wistful, touchingy deployed harmonic scheme etching out the poem's poignant emotions.

THe other piece of a simiilar duration here, Salve regina 2, is quite different in style and character, with trill-like and nimbly arpeggiated effects built into the divided soprano writing, a more conservative use of harmony, and a predominantly bright, cheerful disposition. Of the shorter works, the 12-part Cecilia Virgo, with its cascading, multi-layered downward scales, puts Layton's choir through its paces, as does O sacrum convivium, where Polyphony's unanimity of diction at much lower dynamic levels is hugely impressive. In this particular repertoire, it's difficult to imagine performances of greater distiction.

Terry Blain

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