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CULTURE: Review : McDowall: Magnificat and other works - Canterbury Chamber Choir/George Vass (Epoch CDLX 7146) pounds 11.99.

Byline: Review by David Hart

Cecilia McDowall is one of those rare present-day composers who actually write what people want to perform and hear. Her 'new-romantic' style, which uses the basic elements of melody, harmony and rhythm in unthreatening ways, has a grace and accessibility that never sounds trite. To the innocent ear the four works on this CD, all commissioned by amateur choirs in the last five years, could have been written by a number of British composers at any time during the previous seven decades, but one wonders if they would have been done with such subtle individuality and skill.

The Magnificat, a thoughtful and unusually reflective setting, and the sensuously beautiful Ave maris stella are entirely original compositions; the other two, Christus natus est, a cantata based on Christmas carols, and A Fancy of Folksongs, four arrangements for chorus and harp, make use of traditional material. Only the most hard-hearted listener will fail to enjoy the Fancy, especially the humorous O, no John!, with its additional hemiola rhythms and coyly swooning soprano line.

In addition to her imaginative and involved orchestration - deft touches and colourful percussion abound in the cantata - McDowall shows just how effective fairly simple choral writing can be. Dissonances, when they do occur, arise from the movement of parts, rather than having to be pitched out of thin air, and there are many telling uses of unisons and simple counterpoint. To offset this eminently practical approach to choral technique she writes more demanding music for the soloists, here soprano Rachel Nicholls and mezzo Frances Bourne, who both sing with mellifluous effortlessness.

George Vass, a tireless exponent of contemporary music and young artists, and, one suspects, the driving force behind this admirable release, conducts his Canterbury Chamber Choir and Orchestra Nova in finely polished and well recorded accounts of these delightful pieces. Singers from Parmiter's School in Garston, Hertfordshire, who make a charming contribution to the cantata, complete the very impressive lineup of performers. Thoroughly recommended. HHHHTo buy any CDs reviewed on this page, call our Music Line on 01634 832 789. Prices include p&p
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 2, 2005
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