EX CORDE Vocal Ensemble
Paul Gameson conductor
Anna Snow soprano soloist

Resonus Classics     RES10323 

All three works on this recording of choral music by David Lancaster (b.1960) are distinctive, unique even. The middle work is a richly coloured setting of the Magnificat. Unlike the other two larger works, Magnificat is, of course, a well-established evensong canticle. However, Lancaster’s setting is explorative. The well-known words provide a firm foundation, but his musical lines and harmonies are like a sunlit stained-glass window. Glowing colours tell a story way beyond what is depicted by the familiar words. 

The other two pieces are extraordinary, particularly in their subject matter. Apocalypse uses a text based on a Middle English poem Pricke of Conscience. It is also inspired by 15 panels in All Saints Church in North Street Church, York, depicting the end of the world. Lancaster himself describes his piece as ‘one’s own disaster movie’.

At the Edge of the World was also inspired by something regarding the history of All Saints Church. This is the story of Emma Raughton, an anchoress, who lived in two small rooms in that church in the 14th century. (An anchoress was a kind of hermit who devoted her life to solitude and prayer). The text for this work comes from three different sources, a modern poem by the York based writer Abi Curtis (b. 1979), Ancrene Wisse, described as a ‘Guide for Anchoresses’ and in Latin, the lines of the Magnificat. These three sources are interspersed and interwoven throughout the work.

The chorus Ex Corde are amazing. Lancaster’s music requires perfect timing and precise a capella singing. In Apocalypse we pass through the fifteen days to the end of the world, often going back and forth through the days. Luminous harmonies, soaring melismas sung by Anna Snow and two other sopranos are blended with whispers, sprechstimme and spoken words from members of the chorus. This can sometimes seem chaotic but is a deliberate expressive technique used by the composer for this alarming subject.

In At the Edge of the World texts are not followed precisely, the words are an inspiration. We follow Emma Raughton to the end of her life. The result is quite moving. Male and female singers and soloist Anna Snow are used with colour and rich expressiveness to lead us into a world which I had never before imagined could exist. It was a revelation!

Review by Alan Cooper