Ablaze with light

Ablaze With Light
Choral music by William Petter
The Rose Singers, Peter Foggitt
Novum NCR1393

William Petter spent his short life in the bosom of the English choral establishment. Born into a musical family, he was a chorister at New College, Oxford; played piano, organ violin and guitar; studied voice at the Royal Academy of Music; sang in choirs and as a tenor soloist. He also studied for a neuroscience degree before becoming music director at the historic Anglo-Catholic church of St Magnus the Martyr, London Bridge. On top of all that, he was a composer of considerable promise, as this disc reveals. But at age 34 he was dead of clear-cell sarcoma.

Petter’s music is delightfully packed with the kind of youthful excesses enjoyed by choral scholars: close harmonies, jazz-style sections, soaring soprano lines and plenty of solo opportunities. This is particularly true of the Vigil Mass which takes the plainsong Missa de angelis as its basis. The more austere St Magnus Mass pays homage to Franck Martin’s double-choir Mass and its use of solo cello in two movements creates some hauntingly atmospheric moments.

Three motets reveal Petter’s ingenuity and range of expression. Hushed and fervent, The Lord’s Prayer contrasts with the Easter joy of The Good Shepherd has Risen. Come down, O love divine treats Vaughan Williams’ beloved tune in modal form before a blazing final unison verse with an outrageous descant. Beautifully sung by his friends, this is a fine tribute to a short life very well lived. Proceeds support Sarcoma UK.