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Alan BULLARD (b. 1947)
Sacred choral music
The Selwyn Service - Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis (2012) [6:36]
Sursum corda (1999/2010) [3:55]
O Saviour of the world (2009) [4:46]
The Feast of Palms (1998) [2:43]
Rise up, my love (2011) [6:37]
Hail the day that sees him rise (2000) [2:20]
Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire (1994) [4:18]
Dover Te Deum (2009) [7:40]
Wondrous Cross. A meditation based on the ‘Seven Last Words’ of Jesus Christ (2011) [35:29]
Oliver Hancock; Timothy Parsons (organ)
The Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge/Sarah MacDonald.
rec. 3-4 July 2012, Selwyn College Chapel, Cambridge. DDD
English texts included
REGENT REGCD404 [76:49]

The principal work here is Wondrous Cross, a Passiontide piece that’s not dissimilar in design and concept to such works as Stainer’s Crucifixion. There are brief passages of narrative, almost all of them sung here by solo voices, though unison voices can be used as an alternative. There are also a few short choruses which serve as reflections or commentaries on the Passion story. Like Stainer, Bullard interpolates some well-known Passiontide hymns such as ‘When I survey the Wondrous Cross’ and ‘There is a green hill far away’. The audience/congregation can join in these hymns for which Bullard has furnished his own effective accompaniments and descants. The accompaniment is provided by organ with optional strings though the latter are not used here.
 
As it happens I took part in a performance of Wondrous Cross on Good Friday 2013. I was part of a small group of experienced amateur singers and I can report that the music made an impact on the audience, many of whom found the work moving. Bullard has clearly designed the piece to be within the compass of good amateur singers - it was first performed by the choir of his own church. As such the music is accessible and fairly straightforward though I’m bound to say that my experience in rehearsal was that a few of the harmonies seemed gratuitously difficult. A couple of the choral movements are particularly attractive - I’m thinking of the setting of the Third Words, for female voices, and a flowing, nicely melodic setting of ‘Ave verum corpus’. On the other hand I would include the setting of ‘Drop, drop, slow tears’ in the category of gratuitously difficult harmonies and in this instance these don’t seem to me to enhance the music significantly.
 
Bullard follows Stainer by including a setting of ‘God so loved the world’ but in Wondrous Cross it’s set as either a solo arioso for mezzo-soprano or baritone or for unison semi-chorus. Here an unnamed mezzo soloist sings the piece but I’m afraid the performance is a disappointment. The singer has a fairly small, light voice and the sound is not unpleasing, though I would have preferred the richer timbre of a slightly more mature voice. The problem is that the singer doesn’t do anything much with the music. It’s all sung within a narrow dynamic range - piano to mezzo forte, I’d say - and the several instances where Bullard specifically marks a crescendo to forte go for nothing. The overall impression is pallid. That’s a pity since this is an important section of the work. For the rest the performance is good and the Selwyn choir gives a convincing account of Wondrous Cross. The work is modest in scope but it’s sincere and carefully designed to be within the capabilities of good amateur singers without any hint of ‘dumbing down’ and as I can attest from personal experience, it connects with audiences.
 
The disc also contains a number of Bullard’s shorter pieces. The ‘Mag and Nunc’ that he wrote for this present choir are attractive and well fashioned. The music suits the words well and these canticles are a good addition to the Evensong repertoire. O Saviour of the world is an impressive piece; the setting is quite intense. I was very taken with Rise up, my love. The music is warm and appealing and from a gentle, radiant beginning the piece rises to an ecstatic climax. The Dover Te Deum is good piece also; once again Bullard displays an affinity with the words he is setting.
 
The overall impression that one is left with from this disc is that Alan Bullard is a practical, resourceful composer of church music. He writes with evident sincerity and his prime aim - very rightly - seems to be to connect with his audience and performers. The choir of Selwyn College are good advocates for his music. They sing with enthusiasm and commitment. Generally its sound is fresh and pleasing though perhaps a little lightweight in tone. Just occasionally I felt the tuning was not absolutely true but overall the choir makes a good showing.
 
I hope this disc will achieve what is surely one of its principal aims, namely that of bringing Alan Bullard’s music to the attention of more choir directors. I’m sure that amateur singers, if offered this music to sing, will enjoy it.
 
John Quinn
 

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