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ClassicsOnline Home » Choral Music: Exultate Singers - PANUFNIK, R. / VAUGHAN WILLIAMS, R. / TAVENER, J. / GORECKI, H. / MANTYJARVI, J. / NYSTEDT, K. (All Shall be Well)
This wide-ranging programme offers connections and contrasts in music of devotion and consolation. The settings by life-long friends Holst and Vaughan Williams, whilst very different, are highly affecting. The music of Rachmaninov, whose hymn derives from his 1915 All-Night Vigil, and John Tavener is immersed in the ritual of the Russian Orthodox Church. Marian Prayers come from Pierre Villette and Knut Nystedt. The music that gives its name to the title of the disc is the beautiful ‘conversation’ of Roxanna Panufnik.
All Shall Be Well
Roxanna Panufnik • Gustav Holst • Ralph Vaughan Williams • Sergey Rachmaninov • John Tavener • Henryk Górecki • Jaakko Mäntyjarvi • Pierre Villette • Knut Nystedt
The British composer Roxanna Panufnik (b. 1968) is the daughter of the composer and conductor Sir Andrzej Panufnik. She studied composition at the Royal Academy of Music, and has written a wide range of pieces including opera, ballet, music theatre, choral works, chamber compositions and music for film and television.
All Shall Be Well was commissioned by Exultate Singers for a concert marking the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and was given its première in Clifton Cathedral, Bristol on 8 November 2009. Roxanna Panufnik says of the work:
“For this piece I chose two fourteenth-century texts which I had been longing to set: Bogurodzica, a plainsong hymn which Polish knights sang as they went into battle and a passage from Julian of Norwich’s Divine Revelations—the profoundly comforting words spoken to her by God in chapter 32: All things shall be well.
“When I looked closely at these two texts together, I noticed that they seemed to form a conversation. The knights’ plea for safety in victory and ‘paradise’ (ie heaven) after life, are answered by God’s /Julian’s comforting assurance ‘…that all manner of thing shall be well. Have faith, and have trust, and at the last day (i.e. the day you die) you shall see it all transformed into great joy.’
“This conversation is represented with two choirs in stereo, around a solo cello—the latter often taking the main melodies and sometimes contributing gusto to the lowerpitched bass lines.
“From the last four lines of Bogurodzica—‘Hear the prayer we offer’—all Polish and Middle English words change into modern English as the conversation becomes ardent and cohesive, concluding in ‘paradise’ and ‘great joy’.
“The work is dedicated to Exultate Singers and the memory of my father, Sir Andrzej Panufnik, who never thought he would live to see the Berlin Wall come down and be able to return to his native Poland—but he did return in 1990, the year before he died.”
Gustav Holst’s (1874–1934) setting of the Canticle of Simeon, Nunc dimittis, was written for Richard Terry in 1915, but was not performed until 1974 when it was revised by the composer’s daughter, Imogen. Written for eightpart choir, the piece explores antiphonal effects both between the two SATB choirs and the upper and lower voices. It ends with an exhilarating contrapuntal ‘Amen’.
For many years Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958) explored the idea of an opera based on John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress although it was not until 1951 that the work finally came into being. One of the steps along the way was the unaccompanied motet Valiant-for-Truth written in 1940 after the death of the composer’s friend Dorothy Longman. The work contrasts quasi-recitative narrative passages with strong chordal textures as Mr Valiant-for-Truth prepares to enter the Celestial City. The piece ends with a final blaze of trumpets that ‘sounded for him on the other side’.
Sergey Rachmaninov’s (1873–1943) Bogoroditsye Dyevo is a hymn to the Mother of God, written as part of his 1915 work All-Night Vigil, Op 37. The movement comes at the end of the Vespers, the evening service section of the Russian Orthodox Church service.
Svyati for choir and solo cello was first performed in 1995 and is dedicated to Jane Williams, John Tavener’s (b. 1944) publisher, in memory of her father. The text is in Church Slavonic and is used at almost every Russian Orthodox service. At an Orthodox funeral, after members of the congregation have kissed the body in an open coffin, these words are sung as the coffin is closed and borne out of the church. The solo cello represents the Priest or Ikon of Christ and plays motifs derived from the chanting of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Henryk Górecki’s (1933–2010) setting of Totus Tuus was written in 1987 to celebrate Pope John Paul II’s third pilgrimage to his native Poland. It was first performed on June 14, 1987 at a High Mass held in Victory Square, Warsaw. Totus Tuus, a Latin phrase meaning ‘totally yours’, was Pope John Paul II’s apostolic motto. These words are heard at the opening followed by a setting of a poem in honour of the Virgin Mary by Maria Bogusławska.
O magnum mysterium is by the contemporary Finnish composer Jaakko Mäntyjarvi (b. 1963) and sets words from the Matins service on Christmas Day. Mäntyjarvi’s piece is an atmospheric depiction of the mystical and wonder of the image of the Christ child with Mary surrounded by the animals in the stable.
Pierre Villette (1926–1998) was a contemporary of Pierre Boulez at the Conservatoire National Supérieure de Musique in Paris. In his compositions he was influenced by early music, especially Gregorian chant, and combined it with the exotic textures and harmonies inherited from Messiaen and Poulenc. After the death of his father, Villette went home from Paris to run the family business. The strain took its toll on his health and for the rest of his life he spent long periods in the Alps recuperating and composing. During this time he wrote Hymne à la Vierge, a setting of a poem in honour of Mary by Roland Bouheret, which he dedicated to his future wife Josette.
The Norwegian composer Knut Nystedt (b. 1915) was professor of Choral Conducting at the University of Oslo from 1964 to 1985 and is one of the few of Norway’s composers whose music is performed outside his home country. His Stabat Mater for choir and solo cello, written in 1986, conveys the desolation and hope in the medieval poem, contrasting gentle melodic lines with fiercely dissonant passages. The poem, describing the scene and emotions of Mary standing at the foot of the cross, is thought to be of thirteenth-century Franciscan origin.
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