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DCD34222-CD

Gabriel Jackson: The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ

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Strikingly coloured and richly imaginative, Gabriel Jackson’s re-telling of the age-old story of Christ’s betrayal and crucifixion interweaves biblical narrative, English poetry and Latin hymns, culminating in a rare setting of poetry by T.S. Eliot – himself an alumnus of Merton College, Oxford, which commissioned the present work as part of its extensive Merton Choirbook project.

Shorter items from the Choirbook have featured on previous Delphian releases by the choir; now, The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christis revealed as one of the project’s crowning glories.

Under the direction of longtime Jackson collaborator Benjamin Nicholas, and with soloists and instrumentalists hand-picked by the composer, it receives here a performance to match the work’s own harrowing drama and dark ecstasy.

"This outstanding recording of Gabriel Jackson’s retelling of the Passion story bursts with energy... Jackson’s engaging score is richly colourful and his instrumental writing proves a particular highlight."

 

""It’s a work closely bound up with the college’s history and community, but one that gives every promise of a rich future life beyond both…A 10-piece ensemble, dominated by the glitter of harp, percussion and high woodwind, gives the work its dramatic scope, by turns taut and lean and then thickly spread, rich with melodic embroidery"

"Soloists and choir eloquently weave through the shifting perspectives of this work of exquisite imagination with involving feeling, and the Oxford Contemporary Sinfonia take to Jackson’s often surprising but always richly executed orchestrations with aplomb. Quite unlike any Passion you’ve heard before, it is a rewarding work, deeply sincere, immediately accessible and deserving of much wider exposure"

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

"The music is simply ravishing and Emma Tring’s singing is superb...Guy Cutting sings all this intense music with terrific commitment and emotional engagement...the Merton College choir and they sing superbly on this recording. Their commitment to the music is evident and they deliver the music with great assurance. The playing of the Oxford Contemporary Sinfonia is incisive and expert: the instrumental writing presents many challenges but all are surmounted. Benjamin Nicholas has clearly prepared the performance scrupulously."

"This is an unabashedly diatonic, very singable work, one which would take a hard heart not to love. Me, I was smitten three or so minutes in, tenor [Guy Cutting's] “Tell ye the daughter of Sion…” ringing out over sustained string chords and a chirruping soprano saxophone. The interplay between choir, tenor and instrumentalists is brilliantly handled…It's as if a zoom lens is being deployed, helped by unobtrusively spectacular engineering: this is among the best-sounding choral recordings I've heard. Purchase forthwith."

"Richly imaginative and strikingly coloured, Jackson's Passion is indeed a work of deep spirituality and profound dramatic impact that complements the ecstatic sorrow of the story within a well nigh perfect musical structure. Emotionally charged performances, superb sound quality and highly informative annotations complete a revelatory disc that is wholly in tune with the present Lenten season."

CLASSICAL MUSIC DAILY

"Its new, world-premiere recording on Delphian Records...provides an illuminating and a challenging meditation on seven pivotal events associated with Holy Week and Easter."

WORLD MAGAZINE

"Beautifully recorded at the Merton College Chapel, this is the most persuasive setting of the Passion to have appeared in many years."

Producer: Paul Baxter
Recording venues: Chapel of Merton College, Oxford
Recording dates: 24-27 June 2018
Physical format: CD
Number of discs: 1
Release date: 29 March 2019
Catalogue No: DCD34222
Total playing time: 1:09:01

CHORAL AWARD WINNER

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.

More from the Choir of Merton College, Oxford on Delphian ...

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