David GOODE (b. 1971)
Anthem for All Saints’ Day (2008) [8:25]
Anthem for St. Catherine’s Day (2005) [7:12]
Anthem for St. Cecilia’s Day (2004) [8:36]
Variations on a Theme by Francis Warner (2007) [12:22]
Anthem for St. Peter’s Day (2007) [7:19]
Anthem for the Visitation (2009) [7:41]
Anthem for Christ the King (2009) [10:42]
The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge/Stephen Cleobury
Ben-San Lau, Parker Ramsey, Douglas Tang (organ)
rec. King’s College Chapel, Cambridge (?). Dates unspecified.
English texts included
OXRECS OXCD-123 [62:34]

David Goode has achieved international renown as an organist but I suspect his work as a composer is much less well-known – I was unaware of this side of his talents until this disc arrived for review.

This new release is a collaboration between three longstanding friends: Goode himself; the musician and poet, Francis Warner (b.1937), who wrote the words for the six anthems and supplied the theme for the organ Variations; and Stephen Cleobury, who conducts the King’s College Choir and who, I infer, directed the first performances of Anthem for St. Cecilia’s Day and Anthem for Christ the King.

Anthem for All Saints’ Day, which opens the programme, is a strong, forthright piece in which the writing is often busily contrapuntal. As you might expect, given the identity of the composer, there’s an important independent organ part but there are several passages where the choir sings a cappella. One thing that should be said straightaway is that just because Goode is a celebrated organist doesn’t mean that these six anthems are for organ with choral contributions. On the contrary, Goode is primarily concerned with the words he is setting and the organ, though often used strikingly, is frequently in a subsidiary role.

Warner’s words for Anthem for All Saints’ Day are interesting. They stress that sainthood is not confined to those canonised by the Church and that sainthood is often won by hardship during the earthly life. It’s as well that the words are supplied because the trebles’ words are not always distinct. Though this anthem lasts for less than nine minutes one has the impression of a piece on a big scale.

I was less convinced by Anthem for St. Cecilia’s Day. The use of the choir, and especially the frequent deployment of solo voices, is interesting. There are also some imaginative onomatopoeic effect in both the vocal parts and the organ accompaniment as the text describes various musical instruments and terms. However, I came to feel that both the words and the music were a bit too clever. I don’t feel that the piece communicates with the listener with sufficient directness and in particular I wonder how a church congregation would follow it if, as often happens, they don’t have the words of the anthem to follow.

On the other hand the poem which Goode has set as Anthem for St. Peter’s Day strikes me as being the most successful text of the six. Here in five stanzas Warner has encapsulated the five key events in the life of St. Peter: his calling by Christ; his nomination by Christ as the Rock on which the Church will be founded; his denial of Christ; the washing of the feet – this incident is out of chronological order, but no matter; and his martyrdom. David Goode’s music is often very dramatic and there’s a strong element of dissonance, especially when Peter weeps after denying Christ. Solo voices are often employed and the organ part is very much in the background; often the choir is unaccompanied.

Anthem for the Visitation takes the form of a dialogue between Mary and her cousin, Elisabeth. This is the only a cappella piece on the programme. The vocal; lines are often very contrapuntal and I came to feel that perhaps the piece was somewhat over-composed.

Anthem for Christ the King uses three trumpets and two trombones as well as the organ. The brass instruments add brilliance to the piece, especially in the first and last of the four stanzas of the poem. However, I feel that both the text and the music get a bit bogged down and over-complicated in the middle and as a result the piece rather loses its way for a while before a resplendent conclusion is achieved.

Bisecting the anthems into two groups of three comes a work for solo organ, Variations on a Theme by Francis Warner. The theme is a merry, dancing little tune heard at the start right up in the treble register of the organ. There follow eleven variations (I think) which are skilful and entertaining and which explore the theme in a variety of musical styles. What is, if I’ve counted correctly, the ninth variation is a lively fugue (9:43) which is followed by a majestic carillon (11:20) and an imposing conclusion (11:44). I enjoyed this piece and whichever organist is at the console gives a very good account of it.

The fact that I’m unable to tell you who plays the Variations is the result of an inadequate booklet. The documentation is frustratingly incomplete. Biographies of Stephen Cleobury, David Goode and Francis Warner are included, as are the words of the six anthems. Details of the first performances of all the pieces are also supplied. So far so good. However, no details of the when and where the recording was made are provided – I’ve assumed that the King’s College Chapel was the venue. The engineer and producer aren’t credited. Nor are we told which organist is playing on which track – you might have thought that would matter especially in the case of the solo organ piece. Finally, and most seriously, there are no notes whatsoever about the music. Since these pieces will be unfamiliar to many listeners it would have been nice to learn something about it. For example, what is the source of the theme for the organ Variations? I’m sorry to list so many quibbles but these things are so basic and their omission is, frankly, just sloppy.

I wanted to like David Goode’s pieces and there’s a good deal to admire here. However I found the words and music were too often over-complicated. Frequently the anthems didn’t speak to me with sufficient directness and, for example, I didn’t find the thematic material lodged in the memory. Possibly these are pieces that would work better if heard singly as part of a mixed recital. However, that’s a subjective reaction and other listeners may feel very differently.

Stephen Cleobury and his choir – and organists – are predictably skilled advocates for David Goode’s music.

John Quinn

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