Robert Hugill was born in 1955 in Lincolnshire and, despite a degree in mathematics, found his most rewarding work as a singer, organist and eventually composer, remaining largely self-taught beyond the invaluable experience of knowing music from the inside as a performer.
The most substantial work on this CD is The Testament of Dr Cranmer, an interestingly made musical account of the close of Dr Cranmer’s life, being led to execution flanked by priests who tried to drown out his recitation of The Lord’s Prayer in English with their Latin — an effect splendidly achieved in the recording by eight:fifteen vocal ensemble (for which Hugill is artistic director). The work includes text from Cranmer’s speech at the scaffold, and the Latin hymn De Profundis for which Hugill uses both contrasting melodies from the Roman Gradual. The twenty-minute work, which tends to lay aside musical ideas in favour of text yet contains some beautifully taught harmonic pungency, was first performed at St Giles Church, Cripplegate, London in July 2001 — curiously (for a mathematician) described in the composer’s notes as ‘my 50th birthday’.
There is a disappointing sameness about most of the remaining music on the disc, inhabiting a world of inoffensive gentleness in need of some acidity to drive it along. The choral singers are excellent, and Christopher Watson has a most appealing tenor voice, featuring in two pieces with string orchestra — The Lord Bless Thee, a wedding song, and What is Man?, an ample cantata with words adapted from Blake’s Jerusalem. Of the four Latin motets from Hugill’s collection Tempus per Annum, all of which must appeal to any church choir, there is a bright liveliness in Gaudete in Domino and a real understanding of voices in Rorate Coeli.
The performances are excellent and the recording, made in All Saints’ Church, East Finchley, London in April 2007, serves both singers and orchestra well and makes listening a pleasure.