State Choir Latvija / Máris Sirmais

Gabriel Jackson: A Ship with Unfurled Sails

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Here you have a selection of religious music by a heavily tattooed, Bermuda-born composer, recorded for an English label in a very English choral style, and sung by the State Choir of Latvija. Most of the music is new. It all hangs together surprisingly well. Undoubtedly the biggest news is the final work, Ave regina caelorum (2008), in which the choir is joined by electric guitarist Kaspars Zemitis. This may be a unique combination in the annals of choral music, but it is masterfully handled and really has to be heard to be believed; it's worth the purchase price by itself. Jackson's language relies on layers of various densities within a basically tonal framework; he uses such devices as canon in an attractively transparent way, producing textures that illustrate the ideas in his sacred texts. Sample the title work (track 11), an English-language setting of a poet by Estonian writer Doris Kareva, for a pure programmatic use of Jackson's technique; most of the meanings are more abstract. In Ave regina caelorum, the guitar adds complexity to these textures, with a highly original effect. The other pieces are a cappella, with choral effects akin to (although not really similar to) those used in Arvo Pärt's music, and here the precise sounds of the State Choir Latvija under Máris Sirmais are ideal for the music, and the sound, recorded at a church in Riga, Latvia, is superb. Beautiful and, in places, revelatory.

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