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

Contemporary choral works of a special beauty and appeal

There are many striking features of this ravishing disc, beautifully and imaginatively performed by Stephen Layton and Polyphony. One is immediately aware of various stylistic resonances - from the musical maelstrom of the 20th century but also from many centuries past. There are hints here and there of Monteverdi, Stravinsky, Poulenc perhaps, yet I sense Jackson's profound affinity with English choral music from the time of the Eton Choirbook to the present. There are undoubted allusions to Wylkynson, Browne and other Eton composers in the stylish 'reconstituted' polyphony of Orbis patrator optime together with an instinctive feeling for sonority and a craving for a velvet richness in the spacing and 'purring' of extended diatonic combinations in Salve regina 2 (a truly stunning work) and the 12-part Cecilia Virgo. These, after all, have been the materials common to Tallis, Byrd, SS Wesley and the agnostic tradition of Parry, Vaughan Williams, Howells, Britten and so onwards to Jackson himself. Yet these works transcend any simple notion of eclecticism in the new ways that sonority and harmony are reinterpreted. I was particularly struck by the numinous strains of the Ave Maria, the evocative atmosphere of Hymn to the Trinity, the short, more limpid five-part Blake setting To Morning and the rapturous world of Not No Faceless Angel which, to me, seemed to invoke another English tradition - the partsong - but with a refreshing new inventiveness.

Shaped by his Anglican background as a chorister, Jackson posses, not surprisingly, an instinct for acoustic and vocal texture, but the beauty and sheer appeal of his vocal works, challenging as they are, are sculpted by an energising pragmatism open both to the professional and ambitious amateur choir.

Jeremy Dibble

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