Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

John Quinn
MusicWeb International, February 2013

Swayne’s [Magnificat] contains complex, robust and exuberant choral writing which is delivered superbly here…

The music [of Sabat Mater] is often searingly intense and the performance it receives here is similarly intense. The singing has tremendous conviction and the four soloists sing their roles ardently…The performance of this testing piece generates genuine and consistent tension and this is a piece to which I expect to return.

…Graham Ross and The Dimitri Ensemble deliver tremendous performances of these challenging pieces. The music-making burns with conviction…The recorded sound has terrific presence and the composer contributes a very useful booklet note. © 2013 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Lindsay Koob
American Record Guide, March 2011

The performers are quite accomplished and effective. The Dmitri Ensemble…choral element is first-rate. The vocal soloists are excellent, and cellist Raphael Wallfisch offers glowing and emphatic playing. Sound quality is first-rate, and the composer’s liner notes are helpful and revealing.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Robert Hugill
MusicWeb International, February 2011

This disc presents a selection of choral music by Giles Swayne from the last twenty years. It forms a useful overview of the interesting trajectory of Swayne’s career. Trained at Cambridge and the Royal Academy, where he studied with Harrison Birtwistle, Swayne has been heavily influenced by African music. His field trip in the 1980s to Senegal to record music of the La Jola people had a direct influence on the Magnificat on this disc. And though Swayne has now come to rest in Cambridge, where he became composer-in-residence at Clare College in 2008, he spent some time living in Ghana. The disc celebrates the three main influences on Swayne’s music: Latin plainchant (Swayne was brought up a Catholic), Tudor polyphony and traditional African music.

The disc opens with an extract from a Senegalese ploughing song, O Lulum recorded by Swayne in 1982. This is followed by Magnificat I which makes use of material from the Senegalese song. O Lulum appears at the beginning and end of the piece, but the way that Swayne sets the Latin text in a polyrhythmic manner owes much to other African traditional musics. Magnificat I is a tricky piece to bring off, requiring a rhythmic dexterity which the Dimitri Ensemble exhibit perfectly. The result is as celebratory and exhilarating as one could wish.

The silent land was written as a result of a commission for a piece in memory of a friend’s husband. The couple had been devout atheists, so that Swayne conceived of a scheme to set Requiem texts which make no mention of either God, punishment or reward. Swayne uses lines from Dylan Thomas’s poem Do not go gentle into that good night, Christina Rossetti’s When I am dead my dearest, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Requiem plus lines from the Requiem mass.

The choral part is centred around and focused on a solo cello which represents the individual soul and the piece concentrates on the acceptance of human loss. The long final section consists simply of the choir repeating the words Requiescat in pace, dona eis requiem aeternam, whilst the cello sings a long anguished line.

Swayne uses a forty-part choir. Each of the eight choirs consists of an SATB group plus a soloist. The eight soloists also come together as a semi-chorus (SSAATTBB). When using all forty parts, Swayne’s textures are difficult and dense, but these contrast with magically transparent sections for reduced numbers of voices. The silent land isn’t an easy piece: the cello part explores the depths of anguish in a musical language which is angular, difficult, angry and expressive and the chorus back the soloist up. But the result is enthralling and I would love to hear it live. The Dmitri Ensemble number just forty singers so, rather impressively, they are singing this music one voice to a part. The performance is confident and technically strong, but more than that it is expressive and moving. The solo cellist is Raphael Wallfisch who plays Swayne’s cello part in a richly vibrant manner.

Ave verum corpus is a smaller-scale piece, written for just four-part chorus in 2003, for Clare College choir. And, like the Magnificat, is probably much more accessible to other choirs to sing.

Finally there is Swayne’s most recent piece on the disc, a huge setting of the Stabat Mater for unaccompanied eight-part chorus and four soloists. The poem consists of eight syllable lines and Swayne uses a series of eight-node modes, giving each line its own mode. It has an extra-musical dimension as well: Swayne seeks to place the narrative of the grieving mother into our contemporary political landscape. He includes extra sections setting Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic and dedicates the piece to the grieving mothers of Israel and Palestine.

Swayne’s extra texts come from the Jewish Kaddish, a Hebrew blessing of the dead from the Babylonian Talmud and part of the Muslim burial service. The final section includes words from the Agnus Dei of the mass, is intended to unite all three religious cultures in a prayer for peace.

Though Swayne’s writing is angular and sometimes jagged, with expressive dissonances, his textures are often transparent and reveal his love of polyphony, but distilled through a modern sensibility. His use of soloists means that the piece has a satisfying variety of textures. But, Stabat Mater is a long and difficult piece, and the concluding prayer for peace is by no means a radiantly positive conclusion. There were moments when I could not help wondering whether the piece outstayed its welcome, whether it would have benefited from being a little shorting. But there is no denying the commitment of the Dmitri Ensemble and their soloists who are all drawn from the choir.

The booklet includes the texts in English—except for the Dylan Thomas which is omitted, presumably for copyright reasons—and the texts in the original languages are available from Naxos’s website.

This disc is a hugely impressive achievement from the Dmitri Ensemble and conductor Graham Ross. Ross is himself a composer and shows great sympathy for Swayne’s music. The performances of Swayne’s difficult music are technically accomplished, profoundly satisfying and vividly expressive. This is contemporary choral music at its best, and it is available at super-budget price.

Stephen Johnson
BBC Music Magazine, January 2011

A very worthwhile disc, foregrounding a composer who should be much more widely appreciated. Excellent performances and recordings

Malcolm Riley
Gramophone, January 2011

Gile’s Swayne’s uncompromising choral music is championed by the Dmitris

Following widespread acclaim for their debut disc of music by James MacMillan, the Dmitri Ensemble turn their attention to Giles Swayne. As a composition pupil of Swayne, Graham Ross (director of music at Clare College, Cambridge) has a close affinity to Swayne’s eclectic idiom. As a self confessed “outsider to the English choral tradition”, Swayne nevertheless draws on a trio of stylistic influences: Latin plainchant, Tudor polyphony and traditional African music.

Indeed, it is with the latter that, following a 1982 archival field recording from Senegal, we are plunged headlong into the memorable Magnificat I, a polyrhythmic Fanshavian odyssey scored for eight-part chorus. This is followed by the first of three premiere recordings, The Silent Land (1997), and atheistic Requiem for solo cello and 40 voices. Raphael Wallfisch’s plangent representation of the soul makes an outstanding foil to the multi-layered choral texture. At 23 minutes, this piece really stretches the listener’s powers of concentration.

The Ave verum corpus of 2003 is (mercifully) shorter, more overtly chromatic and sparse, in a sort of post-Poulenc manner, a respite before the 13 movements of the Stabat Mater (2004). Swayne incorporates Arabic, Aramaic and Hebrew texts into his setting, as well as the 13th-century Latin. The work is dedicated “to the grieving mothers of Israel and Palestine” and features four soloists whose occasional heavy vibrato (reminiscent of an elderly Peter Pears) are at curious odds with the firm, rock-steady choral tone of the Dmitri Ensemble. A challenging experience.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2010

The much travelled British composer, Giles Swayne, deserted formal religion many years ago, but continues to value sacred traditions in his music. Having been born and brought up in Northern England, he studied composition with Birtwistle, Bush, Maw and Messiaen, but in middle age moved to live in Ghana, eventually returning to Britain in the late 1990’s to teach composition at Cambridge University. His career has been punctuated by high-profile commissions for works in many genres, though most will readily associate him with choral works. The present disc includes the extended Stabat Mater completed in 2004, a score that explores many religions in its construction, including both Jewish and Muslim, while setting it within the framework more readily associated with the Catholic faith. We can always hope such artistic initiatives will help to the bridge the enormous schism that increasingly divides faiths. Whether or not that happens, this is a finely conceived score for solo quartet and mixed quartet. A ‘live’ recording of a Senegalese folk song opens the disc, and is followed by a Magnificat that uses the song as its basis. The Silent Land reflects a real story of the loss of a husband, but avoids religion, as we know it, to reflect grief of those that live following a loved ones death. A complex score for forty singers divided into eight groups of five solo voices, Tallis’s great work, Spem in alium, being the inspiration for the format, the addition of a solo cello representing the soul. It is far from easy music, The Dmitri Ensemble, containing some of the UK’s finest professional singers, sticking to their task with dedication and a sense of achievement, while Raphael Wallfisch adds the sad-voiced cello. Excellent sound.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group