Judging by the full title of Cecilia McDowall's world premiere (12 April, St Albans Cathedral) - Laudate Pueri - I had expected to be able to report 'the still small voice' of Cecilia McDowall's served as a fitting contrast, or 'calm after the storm' following on a week after Jonathan Rathbone's stormy Ballad of Reading Gaol. But Cecilia quite turned the tables on me by producing a stunning, proclamatory Laudate which to my mind was equal in its impact on the packed audience to Rathbone's 5 April premiere.
In fact in McDowall's unusual choice of the text of Laudate pueri, Dominum (Praise the Lord, ye Servants) - Psalm 112 from the Clementine Vulgate, with the words (sung in the original Latin) 'he taketh up the simple out of the dust: and lifteth the poor out of the mire' - the sheer purity of the age-old message came across with marked integrity. Commissioned by the St Albans Choral Society, this ambitious work in three movements was well projected under their stalwart conductor George Vass, with spine-tingling top notes and arched phrases by mezzo-soprano Frances Bourne, duly answered by the Choir, who proved themselves well up to the challenge of the complex scoring.
Fanfares of trumpets (a very biblical idea) open the powerful work; however these are never nakedly brazen, but accompanied by the soft strings of Orchestra Nova, and the first entry of the exultant solo mezzo is accompanied by pulsating strings, a feature of the work.
I feel this powerful Laudate is something of a milestone in McDowall's output, as she has managed to set an age-old biblical text with stunning effect, still preserving the purity of the message, whilst also at times incorporating some of the jaunty, quirky almost jazzy harmonic touches for which she has become so noted. It is a most interesting addition to the choral repertoire.