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Howard GOODALL (b. 1958)
Choral works
Missa Aedis Christi (1993)* [26:10]
In Memoriam Anne Frank (1995)^* [11:02]
Psalm 23 (Theme from The Vicar of Dibley TV series) (1994)*+ [2:42]
Ecce homo (Theme from Mr Bean TV series)+ [1:26]
They Were Not Here (1995)*[7:28]
Marlborough Canticles
Magnificat [8:18]
Nunc Dimittis [4:07]
Choir of Christ Church Cathedral; Oxford/David Goode (organ); ^Sherborne School Girls Chamber Singers; *String Quintet (John Bradbury and Clive Lander (violins); Ian Rowbotham (viola); Dave Bucknall (cello); Adam Precious (bass); Stephen Darlington
rec. 12-13 February 1996, Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford; +10 October 1994, Angel Recording Studios, London
Texts and English translations included
UNIVERSAL 4763331 [61:46]


Experience Classicsonline

Recently I reviewed a disc of Howard Goodall’s new work, Eternal Light. A Requiem, also performed by the choir of Oxford choir under Stephen Darlington. As will be evident from the recording dates above, the present disc comprises some of their earlier recordings of his music.

In an introductory note Richard Coles refers to a Goodall ‘house style’, which he characterises as “undeniably English; lyrical and tuneful, with hints of the contemporary rhythms and harmonies that are the inheritance from Goodall’s work in popular forms.” I think that judgement is quite valid. I have some reservations about Goodall’s music, which I expressed in writing about Eternal Light, chiefly that his melodies are often rather short-breathed and the instrumental accompaniments to his choral music are not always the most interesting one has heard. However, there is no denying that his music is accessible and appealing and that view is reinforced by this present disc.

The most substantial work in the programme is the Missa Aedis Christi, which Goodall wrote for this choir, in which he had been a music scholar, in 1993 and which was first performed by them on Ascension Sunday in the following year. Since listening to this performance I’ve discovered from the Faber Music website that the Mass was revised in 1999 and is now described as being scored for an accompaniment by organ or by organ with string orchestra but we hear the original version for organ and string quintet here. It’s interesting to learn that Goodall has now expanded the scoring because in his own booklet notes on the music he refers to the “small and dry acoustic of Christ Church” and when I was listening I wondered if the string quintet would be audible in a larger acoustic. As it is, the strings aren’t very prominent, even with the aid of microphones and in the very acoustic for which the work was composed. It’s an approachable and attractive Mass setting, well written for voices and making good use of lively, crisp rhythms, most notably in the engaging ‘Gloria’. The movement that caught my ear particularly was the ‘Sanctus’, which seems to have been the fons et origo of the whole work. Goodall tells of being inspired by the sound of bells from various churches while staying in a hilltop village in southern France. He replicates the effect of those distant pealing bells in his ‘Sanctus’, which is a most imaginative piece of writing.

The set of canticles written for the public school, Marlborough College, are also very attractive. Goodall acknowledges his debt to the Anglican ‘Mag and Nunc’ tradition and his canticles are respectful of that lineage. The music of the Magnificat is fluent and pleasing, with flowing melodic contours. The Nunc Dimittis opens with an appealing, pure treble solo, excellently sung here by Daniel Collins, after which the material is repeated in full harmony. The canticles have different doxologies, the music for the Nunc Dimittis being the stronger in tone. I don’t know if either the Mass or the canticles occupy a regular place in the repertoire of many church or cathedral choirs but if not they should do, for I can imagine both works being welcomed both by singers and congregations.

In Memoriam Anne Frank and They Were Not Here were both commissioned for performance by an adult choir with a semi-chorus of children – here the Sherborne School Girls Chamber Singers. The former sets three poems, including ‘Remember’ by Christina Rosetti; an extract from ‘North West Passage’ by Robert Louis Stevenson; and the famous lines written in 1642 by Richard Lovelace while awaiting execution for treason, which begin “Stone walls doe not a prison make.” Goodall begins with an effective homophonic setting of the Rosetti words but during the poem’s second stanza the children’s chorus is introduced, singing the Stevenson words simultaneously. The melody to which the Stevenson text is set is quite haunting and the tone of the young singers adds an additional dimension to the texture. I find that the combination of the two sets of words works well. At 8:50 all the forces unite to sing the Lovelace lines. Despite the circumstances under which they were written the words are affirmative and hopeful and Goodall responds with music that catches that mood. In Memoriam Anne Frank is an evidently sincere work and I think it’s an effective one.

They Were Not Here is a setting of a single poem, by David Geraint Jones. Jones was killed in action during the Second World War and I infer from Goodall’s note that the lines were written during that conflict. Goodall says that because Jones fell in battle “his text is particularly poignant and challenging”. To be quite honest I’m not sure how good a poem it is or if it would have the same appeal had not the poet been a casualty of war but it obviously resonated with Goodall, who sets it well and with evident meaning. It’s another effective piece but I think In Memoriam Anne Frank is the finer achievement.

Hearing this disc relatively soon after listening to Eternal Light. A Requiem prompts a couple of thoughts. One is that Goodall may be a more effective composer when working on a smaller canvass. The other is to wonder if Eternal Light, written as recently as 2008, represents a significant advance on the music Goodall was writing more than a decade earlier: I’m not sure that it does. This present disc serves Goodall’s music very well for the performances are of a uniformly high standard. It’s an appealing collection of attractive pieces.

John Quinn




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