Cecilia McDowell, Wimbledon Choral, City of London Sinfonia - Da Vince Requiem / 70 Degrees Below Zero

Published Monday 3rd April 2023
Cecilia McDowell, Wimbledon Choral, City of London Sinfonia - Da Vince Requiem / 70 Degrees Below Zero
Cecilia McDowell, Wimbledon Choral, City of London Sinfonia - Da Vince Requiem / 70 Degrees Below Zero

STYLE: Choral
RATING 7 7 7 7 7 7 7
LABEL: Signum Classics SIGCD749

Reviewed by Steven Whitehead

This is a good example of the cliched album of two halves although my response to the two works included probably says more about me than the music. But first an important observation: while any hesitations I may express are my own, the musicianship on show from the Wimbledon Choral, an outstanding amateur choir with a long history, backed by the City of London Sinfonia, is of the highest standard and while the word 'amateur' is often a synonym for 'not very good' all it means in this context is that the singers are not paid, taking the word back to its Latin root of doing something for the love of it. The first work is the "Da Vinci Requiem" in which Cecilia McDowell takes extracts from the Latin 'Missa pro Defunctis' along with parts of Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks to make a seven-movement musical arch. Your reviewer has a long-standing interest in the great Renaissance polymath that is da Vinci and one of my desert island books would be Ralph Steadman's 1983 'I, Leonardo'. Da Vinci has much to offer artists in every media and here McDowall has written something that works on many levels and which will repay repeated listens. If only I could say the same for the second work: "70 Degrees Below Zero", a title borrowed from a letter by Captain Scott to his wife who would be his widow by the time she read it. Ever since I first read about "Scott of the Antarctic" as a schoolboy I have not been able to stop myself thinking that while he and his team were undoubtably brave they were also recklessly foolish. Again, perhaps this says more about me than it does Scott, by I never saw the need to be first to reach the South Pole. It would have still been there the next year and perhaps the cause of polar exploration would have been better served had Scott waited until the conditions were relatively better. So McDowall's musical response to Scott left me - dreadful pun alert - cold (sorry). Perhaps it would be more engaging when heard live and I am certain it could form part of a gripping multi-media presentation but, after the profundity of da Vinci it was an anti-climax. Well played, well sung but not something I will return to whereas the 'Da Vinci Requiem' is well worth hearing.

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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