When vOx Chamber Choir recorded the music for their latest CD back in the summer of 2019, they little knew that by the time it was released we would be in the middle of a global pandemic and the theme of light would be so appropriate.
But the appearance of this glorious new CD, while not originally intended as a ray of light during dark times, nevertheless is exactly that. The timing, though accidental, is immaculate.
True Light, the choir’s second CD, is a collection of choral pieces by Oxford graduate Alexander Campkin, who studied composition at St Catherine’s College and is now a much sought-after composer in Britain.
“These are all premiere recordings, but they weren’t written for the CD – they were all existing pieces that had been commissioned by different choirs and ensembles in the last ten years,” Alexander explains.
“I’m really excited about its release and would really encourage everyone to have a listen to the choir and to my pieces and see what think.”
The 63-minute CD begins with the title piece, True Light, a setting of John I, ‘In the beginning was the Word, which was premiered by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia in 2011 and is scored for choir, organ and tam-tam. Three other pieces – The First Kiss, O Lord, in Thee is All My Trust and Glorious, Beauteous, Golden-Bright – are interspersed with the five movements from Campkin’s Missa Brevis.
“It’s very powerful music that you get swept along by”
Alexander was delighted to have been involved in the rehearsal process for the CD.
“I attended some of the rehearsals, and I was invited to give my feedback and help the group change their interpretation depending on what I said, so I felt I could really mould the sound to what I’d imagined.
“They also performed some of the music on the CD in concert just before this pandemic began, so it was good to see them not only in rehearsal but also in concert performing my music.”
vOx conductor David Crown, who founded the chamber choir in 2015, is also delighted to be seeing this project finally come to fruition.
“For me it’s all about finding interesting, different things to do,” he says. “Alex had written a set of canticles when he was a student, so when he started doing really well, I thought it would be really nice to record some of his stuff.
“It’s very nice working with a composer who’s actually around because you get some genuine insights into the piece.”
David remembers the recording sessions very clearly.
“We recorded it at Lady Margaret Hall Chapel, which has a really good acoustic. It’s tough singing, especially when you’re recording something over a weekend. It’s very tense. It’s fine if a choir’s used to recording, which we’re not!
“It was interesting how well the music had gone down with audiences at the concerts, and I hope that people will hear this. I think it’s something a lot of people will find very appealing. It’s very powerful music. What I like about it is that you get swept along by it.
“As a conductor, I really like the way Alex sets texts. The lines are really good, so it’s enjoyable to get the feeling of the architecture of the piece, to get the flow of it, and when you do that you really feel you’re building towards something, and it has a meaning. It makes sense. You know why each note is there, so it’s easier to conduct because you’re not trying to make up for anything. You can let the music speak for itself. It’s music that takes over.
“The choir found this too. Even though the music is quite hard, you can really get into it, in performance more than recording. Recording is such a particular art form, but in performance you could really feel both the choir and the audience get sucked into this music. I hope this will be the same when you listen to it on the CD.”
As the CD makes its debut, David is now looking ahead and hoping for opportunities to perform some of the music post-lockdown.
“I have ideas for some Oxford-based music for the choir, so this could be integrated into that. I think it would be really great for people to hear it live when we can get the whole choir, plus an audience, into a building that we’re allowed to sing in!”
David is hoping to get the choir back in action as soon as possible, but is sensibly taking a cautious approach.
“For me it’s not just about when we’re allowed to. In a choir that’s got quite a wide age range, from people in their 20s up to people in their 60s, that’s a wide range of people who have all had different experiences of lockdown and will have different risk levels, so for me it’s about when we feel we can, which I’m hoping will be weeks rather than months.
“I think also, for all the choirs that I conduct, there’s going to be a big rebuilding exercise. A few people have done some singing, but a lot of people haven’t done any, so my plan is to build things up a little and get the choir back into being a choir.
“We’ve got a concert pencilled in for the beginning of June. That will obviously depend on whether we’re allowed to do it, but I’m hopeful that we can start to do that, build towards autumn, and then just get going again.”
True Light is released on 26th February by Naxos Records, catalogue no. 8574186. For details, visit www.vox-choir-oxford.co.uk