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Penelope Thwaites: From Five Continents – Choral Music and Songs

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Catalogue No: SOMMCD 0612
Release Date: 03/27/2020
Number of Discs: 1
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SOMM Recordings is delighted to announce the release of an intriguing new recording, introducing the melodious, rhythmically vibrant choral music and songs of Penelope Thwaites.

Featuring 19 premiere recordings, From Five Continents celebrates a lifetime of making music around the world to showcase Thwaites’ distinctive compositional signature. The disc’s centrepiece, a moving new Missa Brevis, is coupled with four Psalm settings, songs influenced by the sounds of Indian and African music, folk-styles from the Americas and an evocation of the vast Australian outback.

From Five Continents features three outstanding singers venturing into new musical territory. Making their debuts on SOMM are Carolyn Sampson – whose brilliant soprano ranges from shimmering choral solos to guitar-accompanied folk song – and baritone William Dazeley, who vividly conjures the inherent anger of the much-set Fear no more the heat o’the sun, one of five Shakespeare settings.

Enveloped by drums and saxophone, tenor James Gilchrist returns to SOMM for a stirring tribute to Nigeria’s second-largest city, Kano. The composer herself provides exceptional accompaniment on piano throughout the disc.

Also returning to the label is Ex Cathedra under their inspiring conductor Jeffrey Skidmore to demonstrate again a rare versatility and the most beautiful of choral sounds while revelling in the punchy, rhythmic vivacity and telling colours of Thwaites’ music.

Thwaites’ previous release on SOMM was the premiere recording of the concert version of her musical co-written with Alan Thornhill, Ride! Ride! (SOMMCD 017) which featured Keith Michell as the 18th-century religious and social reformer John Wesley. “The strength of Alan Thornhill’s libretto and the sheer variety of Thwaites’ music combine to create a compelling aural drama”, said Gramophone.

Penelope Thwaites is also internationally known as an acclaimed pianist and editor of the widely admired The New Percy Grainger Companion (Boydell Press, 2010).

On This Recording

  1. Psalm 24, The earth is the Lord’s for soprano, SATB choir and organ
  2. Psalm 121, I will lift up mine eyes for SAB choir and organ
  3. Psalm 19, The heavens tell out the glory of God for tenor, piano and violin
  4. Psalm 23, The Lord is my Shepherd for soprano and piano
  5. Missa Brevis for soprano, tenor, SATB choir and organ

  6. Kyrie
  7. Gloria
  8. Sanctus
  9. Benedictus
  10. Agnus Dei
  11. Love Songs

  12. Reverie for baritone and piano
  13. All the Days of Christmas for soprano and piano
  14. Forestry for tenor and piano
  15. Five Shakespeare Songs for soprano, tenor, baritone, SATB choir, piano and percussion

  16. Under the Greenwood Tree
  17. Fear no more the heat o’the sun
  18. When icicles hang by the wall
  19. O Mistress Mine
  20. It was a lover and his Lass
  21. India — Australia — Africa

  22. India – Yaathum Oore Yaavarum Kelir – for choir, saxophone, trumpet, guitars, piano and percussion
  23. Australia – Walkabout – for soprano, SATB ensemble, guitar, string bass and piano
  24. Africa – Kano – for tenor, choir, saxophone, piano and percussion
  25. Christmas Songs

  26. Cold Winter’s Night for SATB choir, guitars and piano
  27. A Carol of Christmas Morning for SSATB choir and organ
  28. Lead, Kindly Light for SATB choir and piano

  29. Lead, Kindly Light
  30. St Teresa’s Bookmark for a cappella SATB choir

  31. St Teresa’s Bookmark

All works (except Track 10) first recordings

Reviews:

“The variety is remarkable, as is the level of invention and the concise, effective way Thwaites composes. … Being authentic, too, comes across in Thwaites’ disc.” —Colin Clarke, Classical Music Magazine

“This thoughtfully programmed album of choral music and song brings together a range of melodious and interesting pieces, mixing both sacred and secular repertoire. … In Thwaites’ “Missa Brevis”, each of the five sections have strongly contrasting settings. The opening “Kyrie” is solemn, and here Ex Cathedra excel, while the melodious “Gloria” is delivered by the choral forces and Sampson with clarity and exemplary diction. … The “Five Shakespeare Songs” are a delight from beginning to end.They possess a rich, modern harmonic vocabulary. Scored for solo voice, choir, piano and percussion, they reveal Thwaites’ insightful ability to write for choir and to create drama and contrast. Ex Cathedra navigate the complex chromaticism with complete conviction. … Thwaites has a voice of her own in these and creates something intriguing and original. … The recording captures the acoustics of the auditorium well and is ideally engineered for vocal music with changing sizes of ensemble. Thwaites’ style is accessible, interesting and varied. Any choral music enthusiast would take much pleasure from this commendable release.” —Leighton Jones, The Classic Review

“The major work here is a fifteen-minute Missa Brevis; its open-hearted vitality, joy and simplicity – the art that conceals art – works in … a lovely performance by Ex Cathedra under Jeffrey Skidmore – the Gloria, with Carolyn Sampson (soprano) and James Gilchrist (tenor) is irresistible. … Of the shorter pieces Walkabout shows Thwaites’ gift for a catchy tune, with Sampson as pop chanteuse. First rate recording quality.” —Norman Stinchombe, Birmingham Post/Midlands Music Reviews ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

“The composer has been especially fortunate in the performers involved and the intimacy of the recording, all seem to be firmly committed to this music… The texts have been clearly provided and Penelope Thwaites writes briefly about the background to the disc and intriguingly on each of the pieces and how they came to be written.” —Garry Higginson, British Music Society

“All except one of these choral compositions and songs receive their first recordings in this set and to say they are lively, catchy and imaginative is probably not saying enough. Her style has unmistakable roots in the English choral tradition but brings this soundworld an upbeat rhythmic sens and refreshing lack of pomposity. The beautifully wrought Missa brevis is a model of concise, integrated and well contrasted writing, with some inspired moments (the Gloria is irresistible); and the four psalm settings and the Shakespeare Songs offer vivid responses to their celebrated words… The performances match the music in warmth, directness and communicativeness… Recorded sound is good, with just the right degree of resonance” —Jessica Duchen, BBC Music Magazine ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

“an enticing roster of performers…The songs, performed variously and excellently by Carolyn Sampson, Janes Gilchrist and William Dazeley, share the world of Quilter and Butterworth – rueful, nostalgic, intensely English… Both Forestry and Reverie as well as a set of Shakespeare Songs for chorus and soloists see her at her best. A wonderfully earthy, almost Falstaffian Fear No More the Heat O’the Sun from Dazeley banishes memories of Finzi in its contrasting spirit, while O Mistress Mine and It was a Lover have the lean-back lightness of revue numbers… strong performances from Ex Cathedra.” —Alexandra Coghlan, Gramophone

“Ex Cathedra and their founding director, Jeffrey Skidmore produce impeccably tended performances all of which sets each song as a real musical gem…. given real distinction by the superlative singing of Ex Cathedra and the excellent team of soloists (Carolyn Sampson a delectably laid-back hiker through the Aussie outback, James Gilchrist an awe-struck observer of the African landscape).

… Thwaites is, naturally, an eloquent performer of her own work, and her accompaniment to William Dazeley as he extols the picture-postcard icons of Scotland… The second of the Love Songs finds Carolyn Sampson with exquisite diction giving some alternatives to the famous gifts from the true love over the 12 days of Christmas and, again, Thwaites providing an exquisitely woven accompaniment, that ebbs and flows with perfect symmetry. … direct and unpretentious harmonies, the delicious flexibility and lightness of touch from Ex Cathedra and the immaculately dovetailed piano accompaniments from Thwaites herself make these really worthy additions to the long tradition of Shakespeare verse settings.” —Marc Rochester, MusicWeb International