Chamber Choir Ireland and Irish Chamber Orchestra: Letters review – Recording is extremely vivid

Singing and orchestral playing is on fire

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Artist: Chamber Choir Ireland, Irish Chamber Orchestra/Paul Hillier
Genre: Classical
Label: Naxos 8.574287

Don't gloss over the detail of the pale text in the images reproduced on the front and back of Chamber Choir Ireland's new CD. Tarik O'Regan's palindromic, choral-orchestral cantata A Letter of Rights, to a text by Alice Goodman, is an exploration of clauses from the Magna Carta of 1215, whose words grace the back.

David Fennessy's purely choral triptych opens with Letter to Michael, a musical response to an apparently unsent 1909 letter from Emma Hauck, a schizophrenic patient in the University of Heidelberg's psychiatric hospital. She wrote her implorations to her husband Michael to come to her, over and over and on top of one another. The patterns of her layered-up pleas are shown on the cover. Fennessy mirrors their intensity in overlapping lines that accumulate into twisting masses of despair and loss that seem to drill into the brain.

Ne Reminiscaris tackles the “permanent present tense” of acute amnesia with a looping fragment of Lassus. The final piece, Hashima Refrain, using two Japanese texts a millennium apart, is at once nervous, imposing and regretful.

O'Regan's work is calmer, richer in conventional choral beauty, delegating chompier material to the orchestra. The recording is extremely vivid and the singing and orchestral playing under Paul Hillier are on fire.

Michael Dervan

Michael Dervan

Michael Dervan is a music critic and Irish Times contributor