The Choir of Merton College, Oxford under Benjamin Nicholas have won a BBC Music Magazine Award for their 2019 premiere recording of Gabriel Jackson's The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

The BBC Music Magazine Awards celebrate the very best of the classical recording world, from ambitious symphony and opera releases to imaginative and intimate chamber and solo albums. The list of winning albums and musicians - as written by BBC Music Magazine's Oliver Condy is "phenomenal" with "each winner showing a surfeit of variety, incredible talent and utmost dedication."


Gabriel Jackson's Passion(Gramophone Editor's Choice) was commissioned by Merton for the College's 750th anniversary in 2014. The piece uses texts from the Gospels, as well as by poets associated with college. The judges said" There is little doubt that Jackson’s work is a significant addition to the sacred choral repertoire, with this recording setting a superb benchmark."

On behalf of Merton College Choir, thank you so much for this award .... This piece is woven into College life: the choir loved performing and recording this work"

Benjamin Nicholas - Director

Gabriel Jackson: the power of the Passion

In a special feature in Gramophone Magazine, Editor Martin Cullingford visits Merton College, Oxford, to explore an important new addition to the music for Holy Week

Gabriel Jackson image Joel Garthwaite

Were you wanting to recreate the stark desert heat of the Holy Land in Oxford, the summer of 2018 would have been a good place to start. I won’t draw too many parallels between lush and leafy Christ Church Meadow and the scorched sand of the Middle East, but when Merton College Choir, soloists and players gathered to record Gabriel Jackson’s ambitious Passion setting, it was, for Oxford at least, extraordinarily hot.

And the unexpected temperature did prove oddly suitable in terms of evoking the right atmosphere (and, for that matter, for sitting in an Oxford beer garden having a post-session pint). From the work’s striking opening, where a soprano saxophone bursts out above a foreboding subterranean rumble – somehow managing to reference the sounds of the medieval shawm or even ancient shofar, yet at the same time feeling compellingly contemporary – Jackson’s music transports us straight into a richly coloured, vividly crafted world.

"It’s a powerful journey, taking us through not just the events but the emotions and inherent meaning of the Passion"

That said, those in charge clearly (and thankfully) knew a surprising amount about temperature control when they built Merton’s chapel in the late 13th century as, once enveloped in all that weighty stone, it was, surprisingly, relatively cool (although, perhaps less happily for the Fellows of the day, the early 14th century also ushered in the beginning of what’s known as the Little Ice Age). Though work on building the chapel began in 1290, the college itself was founded earlier, in 1264, and it was to mark that 750th anniversary in 2014 that Jackson’s 70-minute-long work –The Passion of our Lord JesusChrist, to give its full title – was commissioned....

Martin Cullingford

This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Gramophone.