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Now sleeps the crimson petal
Tenebrae, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Nigel Short
Like me, you may have found yourself glued to the telly last April to watch the latest royal wedding. Like me, your ears may have been glued in particular to a short choral work that was sung during the ceremony. That piece was Ubi caritas by Paul Mealor, who has been described by the New York Times as “one of the most important composers to have emerged in Welsh choral music since William Mathias”. Your familiarity or otherwise with Mathias should not inform your opinion of Mealor, as his is an impressive talent.
This CD features not only the little wedding gem but an entire collection of the composer’s work for choir and it’s mostly very strong. The opening quadrant of madrigals Now sleeps the crimson petal features gorgeously subtle twists of harmony and Salvator mundi tempers strident modal declamations with memorable ornamentations. However the disc dips a bit with the Stabat Mater, which tends to cycle through clichés to simplistic emotional effect (Mealor describes this as the “most personal work on the disc”, which may be revealing).
Perhaps the reason Mealor has become the royals’ latest go-to composer is that he’s such a known quantity; each piece here is so immaculately crafted and smooth that after a while I felt like I was listening to the same piece over and over (and indeed the closing Ubi caritas does echo the opening track). As such, listening to the whole CD may feel a bit redundant so I recommend enjoying this in small, delicious doses.