Anyone who remembers the lovely and poignant soundtrack from the Granada series Brideshead Revisited from the early 1980s will know the type of music that Geoffrey Burgon has created. Long a mainstay on the British scene, he has worked in a variety of venues, respecting no one type of musical forum to another, whether television, film, jazz, or church. In fact, for a man who avowedly professes great antipathy to organized religion of any kind, he certainly seems to make a decent living out of it, as his portfolio is littered with many different kinds of liturgical and para-liturgical writing as we have on this disc.
His goal has been to write music that is easily communicable with an audience, and that has the components of staying power. That is easily said judging by the pieces on this recording, including a number of liturgical texts (and his ‘Short Mass’), with some other poetic texts that are certainly at least quasi-religious in tone. The two most affecting works here are the sparse and delicately construed “Death be not proud” and “Come let us not pity the dead”, both moving and nicely drawn.
But what his work seems to lack is both the flowerlike filigree of a John Rutter melody, or the intricacy of rhythmic persuasion that Britten brought to his choral music. One could also cite composers as diverse as Howells and Finzi as having more intrinsic interest when setting the tried and true timbers of a sacred text—too often composers go on autopilot when setting these traditional plums, assuming that the power of familiarity will go a long way in filling in the imagination of a hearer for what may be lacking in the substance of the music. I don’t think that Burgon deliberately feels this when creating his music, but nonetheless, the fact remains that much of it is simply devoid of interest, too foursquare, and harmonically lacking.
Still, there are good things here, and the man does have a fine reputation. I am just not convinced that this production is the one to bolster those claims. The Wells Cathedral Choir has a long history behind it, and these days include a full complement of boys and girls on its roster. The girls sing here, and only the most careful attentiveness to the female nuance will prove recognizable from the white-toned English boy sound. Hyperion’s sound is terrific (does anyone record English choirs better than they?) and the production first class.
— Steven Ritter