Two of these pieces - Tu Claustra Stirpe Regia (from the Sequence for St Wulfstan) and Cantate Domino (an earlier version of one of the Dorchester Canticles) - have appeared on a Guild CD from another Cambridge college choir, but otherwise this is the first recording of Tarik O'Regan's choral music. It haS possibly appeared none too soon, for this 28-year-old Londoner, now living in New York, is rapidly gaining a reputation as one of the more distinctive young composers of today. His current work-list numbers some 47 individual pieces, of which just around half are for a cappella choir. Clearly this is a métier in which he feels particularly comfortable, and there is no doubt that this disc reveals a composer who both understands the medium and writes for it with unusual perceptiveness.
There is one non-choral item on this CD; Colimaçon, an exultant organ solo, is given an incisive and nicely moulded performance by James McVinnie. However, O'Regan's obvious penchant for choral forces has meant that he subsequently turned it into the scintillating unaccompanied Gratias tibi. It's fascinating to hear how what seems like archetypical organ writing translates into wholly convincing choral writing; something which is certainly greatly helped by the taut control Timothy Brown exerts over his excellent team of singers.
The earliest work here, dating from 1998, is a setting of Locus iste. While O'Regan comments that, at the time, 'the idea of writing for a choir seemed quite a novelty to me', it is certainly an accomplished piece of writing which opens with unison voices and gradually fans out to create a rich-textured climax. This turns out to be something of an O'Regan hallmark, the energy and Vitality of Gratias tibi being the exception rather than the rule. The second of the St Wulfstan motets, O vera diana hostia, perhaps sums up the essence of O'Regan's choral writing most' effectively: luminous, fanning textures, plenty of inner movement and harmonic intrigue, and a clearly defined, ultimately satisfying sense of architecture.
Among the accompanied pieces are an extended concert setting of the Magnificat for soloists, double choir and solo cello; which was written for Christopher Rutter (whose father has produced this CD). The use of a single cello may seem strange, but the effect is highly rewarding; its vocal qualities blend imperceptibly with the choir, while its percussive qualities add a nice rhythmic edge to this wonderfully vivid work, the cello sensitively integrated into the texture by Rafal Jezierski. In the case of the two Dorchester Canticles, the instrumental accompaniment from harp, percussion and organ plays a much more prominent and independent role, the instruments inspired by Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, a work which flavors much of the writing here.
I marginally prefer the sound the Queens’ College Choir brings to its O'Regan offerings on the Guild disc but for committed, persuasive and highly accomplished, performances of an exceptional composing voice of our time, I would recommend this disc from Clare College unreservedly.
Marc Rochester, International Record View, 3/1/2006
The 27-year-old British composer Tarik O'Regan won the vocal category at last year's British Composer Awards and, listening to this disc of his choral music, one can hear why. In a largely tonal, or at least modal language, he breathes new life into a motet idiom (the bulk of the repertoire is to Latin texts) adding the agitating voice of a cello among the plainsong variations of his Magnificat and Nunc dimittis settings, for example.
The most substantial work is Dorchester Canticles, with an inventive accompaniment of harp, percussion and organ underlying vocal settings of psalm texts that are both sensitive and pungent in their expressive range. The disc spirals to its end in the purely instrumental Colimaçon for organ, which organist James McVinnie despatches with great vitality.
The singing from the mixed-voice Clare College Choir is beautifully fresh and refined, too. Collegium’s founder, John Rutter, is credited as producer and engineer, and the recording captures the performances in suitably spacious but not over-resonant acoustics.
Matthew Rye, Daily Telegraph, 3/11/2006
As it develops, his music, drawn from both secular and religious texts, becomes more creative as the listener gets drawn into the work ... A talented composer who deserves a wider audience.
, Scotland on Sunday, 3/26/2006
The idiom is basically tonal, though there are sharp contemporary edges and interesting admixtures – the rapidly interweaving textures of the motet O Vera Digna Hostia, for instance, reflect the influence of Balinese gamelan music.
Ancient and modern clash graphically in Magnificat, where fast, harmonically indeterminate chattering of the sacred text is overlayed with more conventionally presented chant material. A solo cello makes an important obbligato contribution, as it does in the succeeding Nunc Dimittis, where O’Regan dextrously deploys double choir and soloists to weave a moving farewell to earthly existence.
The bold, confident attack of the Clare College sopranos is notable here, as it is throughout the programme. Of the other pieces, the two Dorchester Canticles are particularly impressive, showing imaginative use of harp and percussion. Colimaçon, an instrumental encore, is also worth mentioning: it must surely be the only organ work ever to take a snail’s shell as its point of inspiration. The performances are highly committed, and benefit substantially from O’Regan’s own clear, lucid commentary on the music.
Terry Blain, Muso Magazine, 5/1/2006
Tarik O’Regan is a significant new British voice, who deserves to be heard far and wide. His music communicates through the well-explored channels of warm, chordal sonority, but, crucially, neglects neither rhythmic vitality nor polyphonic weave. Consequently, there’s a real rigour to his music, and when it is performed with as much commitment as it is here, it is a transporting experience. The Dorchester Canticles, written to partner Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, is marvellous, ebullient stuff.
William Whitehead, BBC Music Magazine, 5/1/2006
As seems increasingly common with religious choral composers, O’Regan imports structural elements from medieval, Renaissance and Eastern music. One of the most charming instances is the echoes of Balinese gamelan music in O vera digna hostia. There are also some 20th-century references: some passages in the Magnificat recall early Kevin Volans and even Stockhausen, while the climax of Deus misereatur, which O’Regan acknowledges was influenced by his move to Manhattan, owes something to Steve Reich. Ancient or modern, these allusions are all woven in with subtlety, always well integrated into a style which is individual and fresh.
O’Regan also writes imaginatively for the organ, used effectively in the Dorchester Canticles […] Nice writing, too, for the cello in the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis. His use of instruments intensifies the mood rather than simply decorating it. Whatever the future course of O’Regan’s career, he will be able to look back on this debut album with well merited satisfaction.
Barry Witherden, The Gramophone, 7/1/2006
New York-based Londers Tarik O'Regan, still only in his late 20s, has secured a fully deserved reputation for his highly original, immediately accessible choral music. This album of world premiere recordings reveals the fertile invention and expressive virtuosity of O'Regan's work, exquisitely performed by the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, udner Timothy Brown's direction. Listen to the second motet in the Sequence for St Wulfstan, for example, where bold melodies soar above a rich carpet of closely arranged harmonies, or to the entrancing Dorchester Canticles, in which the composer develops a bedazzling array of different textures and mood shifts. Highly recommended.
Andrew Stewart, Classic FM Magazine, 7/1/2006