English composer Robert Hugill (born 1955) originally studied Mathematics at Manchester University, but his real passion is obviously music: he has composed, especially for voice, in many genres, from sacred choral music to opera and cabaret, and in 1994 founded his own choir FifteenB. He is also a member of the Latin mass choir at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Chelsea. His style is attractive and accessible, though far from anodyne: audible influences range from plainsong to Britten and beyond.
The disc opens with two works written for friends’ weddings, the first for tenor and strings and the second arranged for solo violin and string orchestra. “What is Man?”, a setting of extracts from William Blake’s “Jerusalem” for tenor and strings and four motets from Hugill’s collection of Introits for the church year, “Tempus per Annum” follow, before “The Testament of Dr. Cranmer”, a work for unaccompanied choir utilizing the “De Profundis” and parts of Cranmer’s final speech before being led to his death at the scaffold takes up the ensuing 20 minutes. The disc concludes with a “Salve Regina” for unaccompanied 5-part choir, the ‘Agnus Dei’ from Hugill’s “Missa Veni Sancte Spiritu” for ATB and organ, and a “Nunc Dimittis” for the same forces.
Hugill seems, above all, if not a utilitarian then a practical church composer of real inspiration. Fears of his music tending towards the derivative are quickly dispelled in favour of an impression that here is an original, yet highly personable voice. Clarity and mystery go hand in hand – this applies to the performances as well. Tenor Christopher Watson, whose pedigree as a consort singer is impeccable (he regularly sings with Polyphony, The King’s Consort, The Sixteen and many more besides), gives poised dignity to “The Lord Bless Thee” and “What is Man?”, while violinist Simon Baggs is equally eloquent in the beautiful “Faith, Hope and Charity”. In all three works, the strings of the Chameleon Arts Orchestra provide solid support.
Vocal ensemble eight:fifteen brings a delicate transparency to the four motets from “Tempus per Annum” and “Salve Regina”, while the deeply moving text and more variegated emotional chiaroscuro of “The Testament of Dr. Cranmer” elicit a dramatic response of appropriately greater intensity; although there are consequently also moments where balance and intonation are less than ideal. The “Agnus Dei” and “Nunc Dimittis” bring a welcome extension of colour with the introduction of Paul Ayres on organ.
Conductor Paul Brough, Principal Conductor of the Hanover Band, oversees proceedings throughout with a precision and restraint that suits Hugill’s pellucid textures. Hugill’s own booklet note is detailed and informative; the sound recording can seem slightly hard at times but serves the music well nevertheless. Painter Alison Cross’s “Pink Landscape” adorns the cover of this enjoyable release.