Guy Cutting / Emma Tring / Benjamin Nicholas / Choir of Merton College, Oxford / Oxford Contemporary Sinfonia

Gabriel Jackson: The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ

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Bermuda-born composer Gabriel Jackson grew up as a chorister at Canterbury Cathedral, and he has gained renown as a composer of accessible yet novel works for chorus. Some of his work is influenced by American R&B and soul music, but The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ is written mostly in a unique modal- and medieval-influenced idiom. Nevertheless, those new to Jackson would do well to start with this exceptionally powerful piece. The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ was commissioned by Merton College, Oxford, to mark its 750th anniversary, as part of a new Merton Choirbook project aimed at assembling a volume of top-notch contemporary choral music, not all of it English. Jackson, accordingly, interpolates the works of diverse poets associated with Merton -- Thomas Carew, war poet Edmund Blunden, and, in the philosophical final movement, T.S. Eliot -- into biblical texts. Those texts come, unusually, from all four Gospels as well as other parts of the Bible. There is no Evangelist, so the action is narrated mostly by the chorus. To this well-honed text, Jackson responds with a unique neo-medieval idiom that combines drama, mostly provided by the orchestra winds in the form of short, intense bursts; the main material consists of severe modal melody. There are two soloists, soprano Emma Tring and tenor Guy Cutting, both well chosen for the emotionally direct text. Sample the dissonant treatment of the orchestra in the Garden of Gethemane scenes, set to Blunden's texts, to experience Jackson's simple but original and powerful idioms. Beautifully recorded at the Merton College Chapel, this is the most persuasive setting of the Passion to have appeared in many years.

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