Saint Louis Chamber Chorus, Philip Barnes - Saint Louis Premieres

Published Wednesday 13th January 2021
Saint Louis Chamber Chorus, Philip Barnes - Saint Louis Premieres
Saint Louis Chamber Chorus, Philip Barnes  - Saint Louis Premieres

STYLE: Choral
RATING 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8
LABEL: Regent REGCD541

Reviewed by Steven Whitehead

The Saint Louis Chamber Choir has a distinguished tradition of commissioning new choral works to sustain their extensive annual programme with a constantly changing repertoire. This latest release - their seventh on the Regent label - offers yet more evidence of the excellence of the choir's singing plus a varied and interesting selection of new works. Before running through some of the many highlights we must start by applauding the performance. The SLCC is a relatively large choir with a warm blend of voices. Everything is sung a cappella and director Philip Barnes keeps things moving along very nicely. The acoustic at the Second Presbyterian Church is clear and the investment of taking producer Gary Cole across the Atlantic has paid off. The album features a selection of 11 recent commissions with the music in a range of styles from virtuoso works by Gabriel Jackson ("Felices ter et amplius" - from a Latin ode by Horace), Jonathan Dove ("The Kerry Christmas Carol" with words by Sigerson Clifford) and Judith Bingham ("Ceaselessly Weaving Your Name" that mixes a story from the Odyssey with a 'Sant Mat' verse attributed to Kabir). These pieces would challenge any choir but SLCC make them sound easy. The centrepiece is an eclectic set of five songs in praise of ale entitled "The Ale Songbook" with texts from a variety of sources including Scotland's Robert Burns, horror tale pioneer Edgar Allen Poe and the "tramp poet" W H Davies, all linked together with some lively music by Robert Walker. By the way, one of the main industries in Saint Louis is brewing but there is a good case against excess courtesy of some wise words on moderation from the Book of Proverbs with "It Is Not For Kings, Lemuel" with music by Sasha Johnson Manning. While this is an enjoyable collection it is not particularly spiritual - which is an observation and not a criticism. However, listeners hoping for new songs from a Christian perspective and choir directors looking for new church music will be less satisfied than those who have come looking for quality entertainment. Dove's "Kerry Christmas Carol" may come out again next Christmas along with Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds' brave attempt at a new setting of "In The Bleak Midwinter" and, for congregational use, choir member Orin Johnson has put some new words to a lovely arrangement of the hymn-tune "Slane" in "Maker Of All Things" that this listener would be most happy to sing on a regular basis.

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