Vasari Singers
Jeremy Backhouse conductor

NAXOS 8.574179

The repertoire of the Vasari Singers under their indefatigable musical director, Jeremy Backhouse, has played a significant role in the commissioning and performance of a considerable quantity of contemporary sacred choral music. 

This very well filled CD marks the Singers’ 40th anniversary, providing a cleverly devised sequence of anthems based for the most part on a star-related theme and mostly accompanied by the organ, on this occasion in the capable hands of Martin Ford, presently organist and director of music at the Guards Chapel.

The opening number Stars by the Latvian composer Eriks Esenvelds immediately sets the tone for the CD as a whole.  The unmistakeable atmosphere of the night sky is created effectively by organ ostinato figuration which complements the spacious choral writing.  Esenvelds is something of a discovery, further borne out by an ecstatic setting of O Salutaris Hostia which builds to a memorable climax before a magical contemplative ending.

A further discovery is a piece by another Latvian composer, Rihards Dubra entitled O Crux Ave of which Backhouse writes in the liner notes: “is a brief and exquisitely formed motet”.  
The extensive programme contains a large number of attractive pieces stylistically linked.

Two that particularly catch the ear of the listener are Paul Mealor’s imaginative 2013 setting of Ave Maris StellaMealor begins and ends with attractive writing for female voices – the conclusion is particularly effective, its wide dynamic range succeeds in conveying a sense of peaceful calm.

The choice of programme does occasionally lead to a certain sameness of approach but the Vasari Singers succeed in retaining the interest of the listener.

Will Todd’s Christ is the Morning Star with its jazz flavoured harmonic language is combined with some radiant choral writing.

A quirky setting of Like to the Falling of a Star by Judith Weir particularly attracts the attention, as do the four beautifully crafted Salisbury Motets by Bob Chilcott.  Each motet is thoroughly approachable in character, enhanced by the composer’s famously stylish choral writing.  The third motet Lovely Tear of Lovely Eye is made even more attractive by an exquisite cello solo (performed by the stylish Muriel Daniels) and, as Backhouse points out is like ‘a radiant bell’.

Throughout, this is an excellently planned and finely presented CD.  It is a worthy addition to the Vasari Singers’ discography and is well worth investing in.

Review by Alistair MacDonald