Gabriel Jackson, Choir of Merton College Oxford, Benjamin Nicholas - The Passion Of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Published Wednesday 15th May 2019
Gabriel Jackson, Choir of Merton College Oxford, Benjamin Nicholas - The Passion Of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Gabriel Jackson, Choir of Merton College Oxford, Benjamin Nicholas - The Passion Of Our Lord Jesus Christ

STYLE: Choral
RATING 7 7 7 7 7 7 7
LABEL: Delphian DCD34222

Reviewed by Steven Whitehead

On my first listen I was in agreement with the promotional material that came with it that told me this re-telling of the old, old story of the betrayal and death of Jesus was "strikingly coloured and richly imaginative" but on my second play I was not so sure. It is certainly worth hearing as Gabriel Jackson (born 1962) is one of the most interesting contemporary composers working in the choral tradition today and the texts he has set are all well-chosen. The librettist, the Revd Canon Dr Simon Jones, Chaplain and Fellow of Merton, has taken many of the words from writers associated in some way with Merton College, including extracts from the 1611 King James Version of the Bible, part of which was translated at Merton. Also utilised is the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which had contributions from Edward Reynolds, Warden of Merton, poems by Edmund Blunden, a Fellow of the college between 1931 and 1944, a metrical version of Psalm 127 by Thomas Carew who matriculated at Merton in 1608 and, to close, words from possibly the most famous Mertonian of all, "The End And The Beginning" by T S Eliot. The selection of texts is in no way limited by the desire to make use of Mertonian connections and Dr Jones must be applauded for the excellent result. Indeed, I may re-read the words more often than I listen to the music. The Choir of Merton College under long-time Jackson collaborator Benjamin Nicholas sing well and are supplemented by two useful soloists in soprano Emma Tring and tenor Guy Cutting as well as five soloists from within the choir. The instrumentalists, picked by the composer from the Oxford Contemporary Sinfonia, know what they are doing but the end result failed to satisfy this listener. Perhaps the music is too rich, too dramatic for everyday listening. I expect that had I heard it live in the atmospheric college chapel I would have been more moved than sitting in my armchair at home. This is powerful music for worship, not easy listening music to unwind with, so the fault lies more with me the listener not those involved in the composition and performance (and the production by Paul Baxter is also very good). So perhaps I should leave this album until next Passiontide then try again.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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