Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Andrew Palmer
Group Editor
8:52 PM 20th July 2023

Classical Music: Love Illuminates Choral Music of Joanna Gill

Love Illuminates Choral Music of Joanna Gill

Mass for HTB Queen’s Gate: Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus and Benedictus, Agnus Dei; Unfailing love; If ye love me; Immortal peace; A hymn to the Father; Ubi caritas; Before the paling of the stars; A spotless rose; Safe in the arms of He; Eternal love doth never fade; Evening snow; Drop down ye heavens; I heard the bells on Christmas day; Look to the stable; Sir Christèmas; Sono perseguitato dalle acque (instrumental); The Lord’s blessing.

The Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge directed by Sarah MacDonald.

Accompaniments: Matt Denton (violin), Emma Denton (cello), Maria Marchant (piano), and Adam Field (organ).
Recorded in Ely Cathedral

Regent REGCD574

No one has done more than Sarah MacDonald, in collaboration with record company Regent, to promote diversity in sacred music by promoting contemporary composing talent, both female and male. MacDonald’s commitment demonstrates more than anyone else how the vaulted ceilings in our cathedrals and chapel choirs are shattering. One only has to read her enlightening book Cathedrals, Chapels, Organs, and Choirs: A Personal View to understand how much MacDonald has done in this field. Read my review Cathedrals Chapels Organs Choirs A Personal View By Sarah Macdonald. But that is to do her an injustice; there is more to promoting young composing talent; her choirs at Selwyn College and the Girls’ Choir at Ely Cathedral bear testament to her skill as a choir director and to developing and strengthening our future choral foundations.

This beautifully recorded CD features the music of Joanna Gill, who studied composition under royal composer Paul Mealor and then moved to London to continue her studies in Composition for Film and Television at Kingston University.

The compositions are varied, well-written, creating a highly evocative CD with music that is beautifully executed and demonstrating Gill’s ability to write for voices, organ, piano, and strings.
Her style is simple but effective in conveying the message of the words. What is particularly pleasing about this presentation is the programme booklet. Besides the reproduction of the words of each piece, there is a short paragraph about the anthem or mass movement, rather than it all being in one long essay. The way forward.

The short Mass for HTB Queen’s Gate (Holy Trinity Brompton) would make a welcome addition to any choir’s repertoire, and the addition of violin and cello creates an additional texture and depth that helps the listener focus on the words.

Gill’s concept for the album came to her during the 2020 pandemic, and its main theme is love. Love shines throughout scripture and is illuminated during seasons of difficulty, she writes, a sentiment she wanted to capture in the title.

The music is highly accessible, rhythmically and harmonically pleasing, and has some wonderful choral techniques. Gill’s understanding of the voice and how the parts interweave with each other creates wonderful lines, and her knack of using each of the different accompaniments as a cushion means nothing intrudes. The different solo voices performed are excellent, as is the overall ensemble.

The selection of Christmas carols is refreshing to hear, all offering something different, and the Mass, A Spotless Rose, and Evening Snow are highlights as is Sono perseguitato dalle acque an instrumental piece whose lilting melody is redolent of Scotland with hints of the English countrysid; it encapsulates the central them of love.

In a world where there are a plethora of recordings featuring one composer (perhaps there has to be a rethinking of mixing ancient and modern once more on one album), this one stands out for creating an atmospheric experience, spotlighting a versatile and talented composer, and one where the musicians transcend and produce a radiance of love.

As Paul Mealor writes, ‘The music of Joanna Gill is one of intense spiritual joy, of heart-warming harmonies, and of lively rhythmical spirit…'