8 Songs, 58 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

Mastered for iTunes

EDITORS’ NOTES

Mastered for iTunes
TITLE TIME

Ratings and Reviews

DCD Records

Exceptional Tribute to Tavener

What a beautiful album. And what a fitting tribute to John Tavener and his unique artistic vision. 99 Words presents music that honors the memory of Tavener, interspersed with music by Tavener. It's a powerful combination.

John Tavener's sublimely spiritual music has a serenity and transparency that sounds like no other. Roxanna Panufnik doesn't try to emulate Tavener's style. But her music seems to come from the same aesthetic.

"Heav'nly Harmony" uses fuller harmonies and more chromatic accompaniment than the Tavener works that precede and follow it. And yet it seems to have a similar sense of spiritual grounding.

The title track, "99 Words," is a heartbreaking, yet inspiring work. It's Panufnik's setting of Tavener's last letter to his children. The words are spoken, wreathen in choral sound clouds with a cello obbligato.

The composer writes, "the cello represents John [Tavener] -- supporting, encouraging, and embellishing the words." And that's exactly what it seems to do. Without copying Tavener, Panufnik has captured the essence of the composer. In the process, she's transformed his deeply personal message into one we can all embrace.

Cellist Michael Barley contributes "Improvisations on Tavener themes." This work for solo cello celebrates Tavener's music as it refashions it.

The Voce Chamber Choir, directed by Suzi Digby, have an exceptional ensemble sound. And it takes an exceptional talent to make Tavener's music sound as ethereal as it should. The Voce Chamber Choir does so every time.

This is just one of those releases where everything's right -- the program, the sequencing, the recording, the performances, and the music.

Especially the music.

About Various Artists & Suzi Digby

The British choral conductor Suzi Digby has been to top venues in Britain and the U.S. and has founded three ensembles -- Voce, ORA, and The Golden Bridge. The latter two groups have been noted for a unique concept: their repertoire includes commissioned new works that respond to Renaissance compositions. She has established and/or served with organizations that aim to strengthen choral music in British schools, and she is a Trustee of Music in Country Churches. As if these did not make up a sufficient contribution to British musical life, she is also Official Choral Conductor to the Rolling Stones (Voce has performed with the Stones at major concerts including one at the 2013 Glastonbury festival).

Digby was born Susan Watts on July 1, 1958, in Tokyo, settling in England and studying piano and conducting at King's College, Cambridge. She has also lived in Mexico, and the Philippines, and, for 12 years, Hong Kong, where she was a radio and television host as well as a teacher and performer. Digby won a Winston Churchill Fellowship in 1990, using the proceeds to travel to the U.S., Canada, Hungary (where she has served as guest conductor of the Budapest St. Stephen's Oratorio Choir), and Finland. After this odyssey, many of her enterprises in Britain have nurtured local music-making. She has founded and operated the Voices Foundation (the U.K.'s leading primary music education charity, promoting musical education and choral groups employing the methods of Zoltán Kodály); Vocal Futures (aimed at developing young audiences for classical choral music); Singing4Success (a group that promotes choral music as a means for developing leadership and "accelerated learning" in corporate settings), and the London Youth Choir (a pyramid of five choirs, with members ages 8-22, serving all ethnic communities in London’s 33 boroughs).

Parallel with these activities, Digby developed a career as a conductor. She led the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in an acclaimed 2011 performance, but she is most noted for creating new ensembles through which she has been able to realize her creative vision. These have included the young London chamber choir Voce (co-founded with singer and pianist Harry Briggs), ORA in London, and The Golden Bridge in California. ORA's 2017 debut album, Many Are the Wonders, reached high chart levels in Britain; a second album with Voce, 99 Words, featuring music by John Tavener and Roxanna Panufnik, appeared in 2018.

Digby has been a visiting professor in choral studies at the University of Southern California. She has been designated an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. ~ James Manheim

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