GABRIEL JACKSON: “Beyond the Stars,” Sacred Choral Works Volume II – Choir of St. Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh/ Duncan Ferguson, cond./ Nicholas Wearne, organ – Delphian CDC34106, 68:38 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:
Gabriel Jackson, judging by the photo in this release with its graffiti-background, looks like someone more comfortable in a beatnik club back in the 1950s. But in this case the reality of the music in no way matches the picture of the man. Jackson is rapidly becoming one of the new choral wunderkind of the age, writing music that strikes the listener with fire, passion, mystery, and an ineffable sense of wonder. Perhaps it is the last characteristic that most fires the excitement of people hearing the music, for face it, the “God squad” attribute of Part, Tavener, and Goercki have long become passé and exceptionally imitated. In fact, aside from minimalism itself, I can’t think of a style more copied that the one espoused by those three path breakers. Jackson’s music would not be possible without them, yet he is no imitative stylist; he goes his own way with no concern of breaking any barriers or molds, just as his muse dictates.
This is Volume 2 of Delphian’s series dedicated to his music. Eleven of the pieces are directly written for the Choir of St. Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, apparently the first English cathedral choir with daily services to admit girls as well as boys to its treble ranks—going back to 1978—as well as the first to allow female altos as well. Well, there goes the neighborhood. You will not find the exceptional quality of tone found in the Holst Singers or even the Westminster Cathedral Choir in my opinion, but that is not to slight the group. They do have a more rugged, in many ways, more alive sound, very vibrant with a lot of presence. All of the works save two are premiere recordings, so this disc does have value in that regard as well. The two previously-recorded works also happen to be two of the best, especially the miraculous Justorum anime and the lovely The Land of Spices, from a poem of George Herbert.
The centerpiece must be the wonderful medieval-haunted Missa Sanctae Margaretae, developed for the choir of St. Margaret’s Church in Oxford. This piece is motivically centered in the first and last movements with a unifying theme. The piece strikes one as something that could have emerged from yesteryear with a modern twist, though one might be hard pressed to define exactly of what that twist consists. I must also mention the organ prelude Fanfare for St. Mary’s and the brilliant playing by organist Nicholas Wearne. This work is effectively balanced as an attention-getter as well as settling in, almost imperceptibly, to the tone of impending worship.
There you have it. Jackson fans need not hesitate, and others should definitely explore. Another essential disc in his growing catalog.
TrackList: The Glory of the Lord; Fanfare for St Mary’s (organ solo); The Christ-child; Hymn to St Margaret of Scotland; Jesu, Rex admirabilis; Ah, mine heart; Missa Sanctae Margaretae; Justorum animae; Vidi aquam; Let us all rejoice in the Lord; In all his works; The Land Of Spices; Ecce venio cito