Jackson: Not no faceless Angel (CD Review - bbc.co.uk, 2009)

Gabriel Jackson seems ubiquitous at the moment. Last year his magnificent 40-part motet, Sanctum est verum lunem received its world premiere recording as the title track of the National Youth Choir of Great Britain’s 25th anniversary disc. In June 2009, Delphian will release a CD of his sacred choral works performed by the choir of St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh. Both are great discs, but this is the release to be particularly excited about.

Not No Faceless Angel features eleven works written between 1990 and 2007, seven of which are world premiere recordings. Most are religious, with the exceptions of the title track, and Song, although remove the words to these two and even their music would feel perfectly at home in a cathedral. For those as yet unfamiliar with Jackson’s music, I urge you to have a listen, as his is some of the most accessible currently being composed.

His sound is heavily (or should that be heavenly?) steeped in past choral traditions; you’ll hear shades of Josquin through to Stravinsky, with strong references to English choral heritage, particularly the Tudors. He’s no derivative musical magpie, though; his skill is in taking these many references and transforming them into his own, timelessly modern musical language. He is also a master craftsman, his part writing ranging from chordal simplicity in Salve Regina, to awe-inspiring contrapuntal complexity in the 12-part Cecilia Virgo.

Polyphony are perfectly suited to this music, eclectic and versatile as they are themselves. Here, they mix warm cohesion with lucid textures in a sound that is always faultlessly balanced and tightly together. Listen to the sopranos in the opening section of Cecilia Virgo, with its complicated series of overlapping descending scales.

The sopranos throughout represent the icing on the musical cake with their gloriously luminous, pure tone. Technical stuff out the way, this performance also satisfies the soul; Polyphony effortlessly evoke the music’s transcendent qualities in a performance awash with holy reverence. This is music and a performance that takes the ears and the mind heavenwards, whatever you believe.

Charlotte Gardner 

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