Classical CD Reviews

JUDITH BINGHAM: Choral Music – Wells Cathedral Choir/ Matthew Owens/ Jonathan Vaughn, org. – Hyperion

One of the most direct and honest choral composers I have ever heard, though the experience can be uncomfortable, even if the music is highly accessible.

Published on September 27, 2013

JUDITH BINGHAM: Choral Music – Wells Cathedral Choir/ Matthew Owens/ Jonathan Vaughn, organ – Hyperion CDA67909, 73:00 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ***1/2:

Judith Bingham’s music puzzles me—these are no run-of-the-mill Anglican close-harmony modern ecstatic choral fantasies. Instead we have a composer who is of faith but continually asks questions and strives for faith—and doesn’t always give easy answers. In and of itself this is a good thing; mysticism is after all only a component of true spiritual experience, and the one-sided utterances of so many choral composers today, as beautiful as they are, leave an incomplete picture. Bingham is a former singer herself, so she knows the craft and knows the possibility of the human voice. But she rarely stretches the technique or challenges the voice to do something different. Instead, her craft centers around pure compositional creativity and the uncanny ability to make us uncomfortable—and often without resolution.

Some of the works, like Ave verum corpus and Epiphany are downright creepy; there is something so unresolved about them that they leave a somewhat chilling effect. Others, the Missa brevis, Corpus Christi Carol, and Ediington Service contain rarified and exquisite beauties that ravish the ear and delight the soul. In between these two extremes lay music that seems to me, at best, rather lukewarm. For example, Our faith is a light sounds to me disingenuous; either that or her own proclamation is uncertain and reserved, making her music a sort of dialog with her about her own deepest beliefs. But for public expression we often feel uncomfortable listening, as if we really have no right to be in on such a personal conversation—and few things are more personal than faith.

One cannot question this woman’s honesty, in presentation and refusal to pretend for the sake of an audience. Nevertheless, this sort of forthrightness can be uncomfortable for those looking for affirmation instead of challenge, especially if they don’t happen to share that perspective. While I can’t pretend to share her experiences, and don’t always want to, I can appreciate the ability to so convincingly air her innermost frame of mind, and every once in a while she truly touches me in ways that few composers do. I just wish it was most of the time.

The choral work is superb, though for the first time I noticed some distortion when the music got high and loud, enough to make my hefty speakers crackle, which is unusual for a Hyperion release. Bingham has a lot to say and says it how she feels it. Many people will find this appealing, others not as much.


1. Wells Service | Cantate Domino
2. Wells Service | Deus misereatur
3. Harvest 
4. Missa brevis Awake my soul | A wasteland, the ruins of a sacred building| Lord, have mercy
5. Missa brevis Awake my soul | The rebuilding begins | Gloria
6. Missa brevis Awake my soul | The consecration of the house | Sanctus
7. Missa brevis Awake my soul | as we forgive them | Lamb of God
8. The Shepherd
9. Ave verum corpus
10. Jesum quaeritis Nazarenum
11. Corpus Christi Carol
12. Christmas Past | Hope
13. Christmas Past | Midnight
14. Christmas Past | The Gift
15. Christmas Past | Christmas Past
16. Epiphany
17. Edington Service | Magnificat 
18. Edington Service | Nunc dimittis
19. God be in my head
20. Our faith is a light

—Steven Ritter

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