NEW: Panufnik – Celestial BirdCelestial Bird

Ex Cathedra
Milapfest

Jeffrey Skidmore conductor

SIGCD543
56’33

Buy via Presto Classical to boost Classical Chart position

One of the UK’s most lauded composers, Roxanna Panufnik celebrates her 50th birthday with this release of previously unrecorded choral music. We were thrilled to work with Roxanna on this CD, and to join forces with Indian classical musicians from Milapfest to perform Unending Love. The CD also includes recordings of two Ex Cathedra commissions: Child of Heaven: Dawn Chorus III (2018) which sets a Hymn to Dawn from the Rig Veda; and Since We Parted (2015), a love song set against the backdrop of World War I.

Ex Cathedra and Roxanna Panufnik would like to thank Arts Council England, the PRS Foundation and the generous individual donors whose support made this CD possible.

Click here to read an interview Roxanna have given to Presto Classical about the CD.

REVIEWS for Celestial Bird:

“This fine album of choral works arrives in the midst of a celebratory year for the composer.  Panufnik’s works present varied sound worlds, luminous settings of sacred texts and, in the title track, traces of Celtic folksong. Celestial Bird sets a mystical poem by Carmelite nun Jessica Powers with sumptuous harmonies that soar and sting, aptly showcasing Ex Cathedra’s magnificent purity of sound. By contrast, Save Regina for unison female voices and piano is all about line. The work sets an extract of plainsong in an arrangement Panufnik describes as ‘very unplainsongy’, yet the piece captures, especially in this eloquent performance, the lilt and meditative space of medieval chant, albeit vividly reimagined. Other works range from the luscious Romanticism of Since We Parted (written to commemorate World War I) to the bittersweet lullaby A Cradle SongUnending Love sets a poem by Tagore and features South Asian instruments and Carnatic singer… Child of Heaven swirls across a number of Indian modes in depicting the break of dawn. The work is elegantly-shaped and full of warmth, rather like this disc as a whole.” (BBC Music Magazine)

“Released in honour of the composer’s 50th birthday, this CD bringing a selection of Roxanna Panufnik’s small-scale choral music is one to treasure. Much of the content reflects her warm religious devotion, and these soaring performances from Ex Cathedra directed by Jeffrey Skidmore joyously respond to this heartening faith. But Panufnik reaches out beyond her own Catholicism to encompass other religions and cultures, as the stunning opening reveals. Unending Love, a setting of the Indian poet Tagore, is a glorious fusion of Indian ragas (here delivered by Milapfest and the evocative Carnatic singer Ashnaa Sasikran) and western choral tradition; the result is hypnotically magical. This whole disc has a heartwarmingly family feel to it, many of the works prompted by events involving people close to Panufnik, not least the St Aidan’s Prayer, with her son Benedict Macklow-Smith as treble soloist. The insert-booklet is a delight.” (www.midlandsmusicreviews.co.uk)

“[Unending Love] is a whole kaleidscope of things meeting together which, of course, is what Roxanna Panufnik does so very well … you can tell people are having a good time … slick sound … excellent discipline … an essential humanity” (BBC Radio 3 Record Review)

Unending Love launches this release with what is arguably the most striking work of the dozen, an intriguing fusion of Indian and Western music setting Rabindranath Tagore. Milapfest provides a Carnatic singer, Indian violins, a sitar and two percussionists to give idiomatic support to choral writing based on ragas… Panufnik has forged an idiosyncratic language often using simultaneous major and minor harmonies. This is apparent in Celestial Bird, an a cappella setting of a mystical poem by Jessica Powers to which Panufnik fashions a gentle, understated response, marked by glowing harmonies and sinuous lines… Skidmore drawing a warm tone from his excellent singers… there is greater adventurousness in the use of Indian modes that weave through Child of Heaven, its joyful text from the Rig Veda amply realised. Simpler in style but no less expressive are two works for voices and piano; Salve Regina (unison women’s voices) and A Cradle Song, the latter a radiant setting of William Blake… Beguiling and soothing, it’s Panufnik at her most individual.” (www.classicalsource.com)

“This anthology of choral music by British composer Roxanna Panufnik showcases her as an imaginative, distinctive and expressive composer, especially when setting spiritual texts. The longest of the 11 pieces, Unending love, opens the program. It uses a poem by the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) and mixes Western and South Indian music in a highly original way, with, as a formative element, Carnatic – South Indian – singing. The choir Ex Cathedra is accompanied in this innovative piece by the ensemble Milapfest, which specializes in Indian music… And so, this release, which is performed to a high standard, confirms Roxanna Panufnik’s reputation for composing music which is demanding yet accessible, with emotion, sensuality and a lyrical play of colours.” (www.pizzicato.lu)

Child of Heaven is a setting of words from the Rig Veda in English translation and it’s for unaccompanied choir. Here, Panufnik uses Indian modes in her music. There’s a good deal of overlapping choral writing in the background as the text is declaimed by other singers. Impelled forward by these energetic overlapping lines, the piece builds excitingly to an ecstatic final chord. Child of Heaven was commissioned by Ex Cathedra. So was Since We Parted [a setting of] lines by the Victorian Robert Bulmer-Lytton (1831-1891) and some by Kathleen Coates (1891-1958) from her poem, ‘A Year and a Day’. The words by Bulmer-Lytton are used as a kind of refrain, set to warmly romantic music. Kathleen Coates’ sentiments are even more regretful and though the tempo is not quicker (I think) the music to which her words are set seems more urgent, conveying the sorrow of parting. The choir is accompanied by a small ensemble consisting of two trumpets, harp, piano and cello. The instruments are tellingly used and in particular the frequent little fanfare-like fragments on the trumpets seem to suggest in the background a military context which is not actually present in either poet’s words. This is a most imaginative and eloquent score… This album is a fine and nicely varied birthday gift from Ex Cathedra to Roxanna Panufnik. Under the leadership of Jeffrey Skidmore this ensemble has acquired a justly-deserved reputation as one of the UK’s finest chamber choirs. This disc will surely enhance its reputation still further. It also serves to remind us that though they made their name for their historically informed performances of Baroque music, much of it rare, they have consistently been highly effective advocates for the choral music of our own time.” (www.musicweb-international.com)

1 Unending love
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2 Celestial Bird
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3 Salve Regina
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4 O Hearken
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5 St Pancras Magnificat
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6 St Pancras Nunc Dimittis
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7 Since We Parted (Ex Cathedra commission)
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8 A Cradle Song
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9 Deus est Caritas
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10 St Aidan's Prayer
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11 Child of Heaven: Dawn Chorus III (Ex Cathedra commission)
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