Ben Parry conductor
Andreana Chan organ
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD790
The music for all 21 of these sincerely sacred pieces is composed by Joanna Forbes L’Estrange. She has also written, or at least compiled, the texts of two of the pieces, Words from The Cross and Give Us Grace, this last taken from a prayer by Jane Austen.
Joanna Forbes L’Estrange has had a notable career in choral music, having been a performer and director of ensembles such as the Swingle Singers and Tenebrae. She has also been involved with London Voices who are the choir on this CD. Along with their conductor Ben Parry, they have sung on numerous film scores, Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and many more.
At a first listening, I did have a problem. So much of the music was so apparently similar. John Rutter gives it a warm commendation. We could possibly say that L’Estrange’s music comes from a similar stylistic background. It is instantly attractive, from the easy listening side of the repertoire. Listen to one or two pieces at a sitting maybe, but all 21 together?
I have mentioned Words from The Cross. Crucifixion is not a pleasant way to go, surely. Was the music here a bit too gentle and polite for what it was dealing with?
Let me be fair to L’Estrange. Within a narrow band of inspiration there is a considerable variety in her music. The opening piece Let My Prayer Rise Up, for two-part choir and organ, is repetitively simple. It is followed by God the Holy Trinity for three-part unaccompanied voices and that is satisfyingly complex.
There is a Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis which work splendidly well, and later on, Give Us Grace and High as the Heavens, both for unaccompanied three-part female voices, have the sense of American spiritual music, especially the second of these with the merest touch of percussion and hand clapping.
Faith Hope and Love takes the music closer to pop than elsewhere. I really liked Drop, Drop, Slow Tears with a text by Phineas Fletcher (1582 – 1650). It sported music that nicely matched the period of the text. L’Estrange also gives us a new setting of Pierpoint’s popular hymn For the Beauty of the Earth. It sits acceptably alongside the famous tune Lucerna Laudoniae by Edward Arthur.
Review by Alan Cooper