Set up less than a decade ago, the choir of Merton College is a relative newcomer to Oxford’s choral life, but in its short existence it has punched well above its weight. Unsurprising perhaps, given that one of its directors is Peter Phillips. The Tallis Scholars which Phillips also directs have been recording in Merton chapel for years, taking advantage of its splendid acoustic.
To celebrate its 750th year the college has undertaken two visionary projects to support the choral foundation. The first is the installation of a superb new pipe organ. The second is the creation of the Merton Choirbook, a collection of music commissioned from composers from around the globe including a work by Melbourne composer, Christopher Willcock, whose Missa Brevis will be premiered later this year.
This program of mainly a cappella music is mostly traditional Anglican fare enlivened with more recent works, including some from the Choirbook. All of the music is beautifully sung, whether it be favourites such as This is the record of John (Gibbons), Hear my prayer, O Lord (Purcell) or Valiant for Truth (Vaughan Williams). Amongst the new music, the Nunc dimittis from Eriks Ešenvalds’s evening canticles, James Lavino’s Beati quorum via and Ola Gjeilo’s Sacred Origins engage the listener’s attention because they are both well crafted as well as beautiful. Now for another volume featuring the new organ!