LUX

THE WORKS ON THIS CD

Lux is a new, major collection of sacred choral compositions by John Galea, featuring a host of previously unrecorded works in glittering performance by the Chorus Urbanus and the Sofia Collegium String Ensemble. Conducted by the composer himself, this beautifully-packaged release, exploring a wide gamut of emotions – exalted, devotional, jubilant, mystical – represents a cross-section of choral sacred music composed over a period of twenty-five years, that promises to delight all audiences.

 

1. LUX

The opening track Lux makes use of carpeting sonorities portraying the emergence of light (lux), the introductory piece captivates the listener immediately with its ‘wall of sound’, thickly created by the full choir singing just one word: ‘lux’.

2. O SALUTARIS HOSTIA

Sung at Benediction, O Salutaris Hostia is one of the most popular chants in honour of the Blessed Sacrament that has been set widely by many composers. The use of unison writing, opening up to various harmonies hovering around their tonal centres, combine to make this chant a work of high devotion.

3. NOS AUTEM GLORIARI OPORTET

Nos autem gloriari oportet serves as an entry antiphon to the Solemn Evening Mass of Maundy Thursday, sung in procession leading up to the main altar. Conceived for Bass solo and a four-part choir of soloists for the middle part, the antiphon leans on its smooth harmonies to convey austere and sober moments that are typical of Galea’s sacred style.

soloist: Noel Galea (b); quartet: Hilda Grima (s), Antonella Mercieca (a), Mario Portelli (t), George Borg (b)

4. PROTEGE, DOMINE

Protege, Domine, plebem tuam is an Offertory for the Mass of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, solemnised on 14 September. Used here as an antiphon, the text serves as an invocation to the Holy Cross, appealing for protection and strength in the face of adversity so that the sacrifice of the Holy Eucharistic is deemed worthy. Skilfully set as a duet for soprano and bass accompanied on the organ, the music represents a determined and resolute faith symbolised through the reiterated notes of the two balanced voices that are subtly harmonised to full effect.

soloists: Yvonne Galea (s), Noel Galea (b)

5. DOMINE, NON SUM DIGNUS

Pertaining to the Rubrics for the Mass, the words (and title of this motet) ‘Domine, non sum dignus’, are spoken by the celebrant at Communion, once he has consumed the Precious Blood. After saying ‘Ecce Agnus Dei’, followed by the thrice repeated ‘Domine, non sum dignus’ (Lord, I am not worthy), the celebrant distributes Holy Communion to the congregation. Conceived for an SATB quartet, the healing power of the sacrament provides an excellent scope for the peculiar mixture of quartal harmonies set in a chromatic perspective of legato singing, symbolising the communal drawing into the mystery of the transcendental God. The composition is trisectional, with the opening and closing sections sharing the same harmonic resources, the last in retrograde fashion; the middle section contrastingly presents a polyphonic texture that makes use of motivic techniques supported by rich harmonies.

quartet: Yvonne Galea (s), Hilda Grima (a), Joseph Camilleri (t), Noel Galea (b)

6. TOTA PULCHRA ES, MARIA

Tota Pulchra es, Maria is the antiphon, performed at Second Vespers, for the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, solemnised on 8 December. The rich harmonic palette that emerges out of deft polyphonic techniques is typical of Galea, symbolising here the purity and innocence of the Blessed Virgin Mary – a strong devotion in the Maltese islands dating back to late medieval times.

Protege, Domine, plebem tuam is an Offertory for the Mass of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, solemnised on 14 September. Used here as an antiphon, the text serves as an invocation to the Holy Cross, appealing for protection and strength in the face of adversity so that the sacrifice of the Holy Eucharistic is deemed worthy. Skilfully set as a duet for soprano and bass accompanied on the organ, the music represents a determined and resolute faith symbolised through the reiterated notes of the two balanced voices that are subtly harmonised to full effect.

soloists: Yvonne Galea (s), Noel Galea (b)

5. DOMINE, NON SUM DIGNUS

Pertaining to the Rubrics for the Mass, the words (and title of this motet) ‘Domine, non sum dignus’, are spoken by the celebrant at Communion, once he has consumed the Precious Blood. After saying ‘Ecce Agnus Dei’, followed by the thrice repeated ‘Domine, non sum dignus’ (Lord, I am not worthy), the celebrant distributes Holy Communion to the congregation. Conceived for an SATB quartet, the healing power of the sacrament provides an excellent scope for the peculiar mixture of quartal harmonies set in a chromatic perspective of legato singing, symbolising the communal drawing into the mystery of the transcendental God. The composition is trisectional, with the opening and closing sections sharing the same harmonic resources, the last in retrograde fashion; the middle section contrastingly presents a polyphonic texture that makes use of motivic techniques supported by rich harmonies.

quartet: Yvonne Galea (s), Hilda Grima (a), Joseph Camilleri (t), Noel Galea (b)

6. TOTA PULCHRA ES, MARIA

Tota Pulchra es, Maria is the antiphon, performed at Second Vespers, for the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, solemnised on 8 December. The rich harmonic palette that emerges out of deft polyphonic techniques is typical of Galea, symbolising here the purity and innocence of the Blessed Virgin Mary – a strong devotion in the Maltese islands dating back to late medieval times.

7. CANTICUM

Built on the eighth tone of the Gregorian Chant psalm tones, the Canticum (Magnificat) for string orchestra grows by developing the main theme into a sonorous climax that, nonetheless, has its own moments of hushed pianissimos that breathe an air of serene contemplation and interior calm.

8. ATTENDE DOMINE

This is a chant for the Benediction to be performed during Lent. The choir sings the refrain in block-chordal fashion, leaving the central, more taxing part to the solo soprano. The tender melody has a melancholic touch supported by chromatic harmony, associated here with the struggle of life, reaching high anguished notes on ‘Christe’, yet finding a peaceful resolution to humanity’s travails in the concluding moments of this work, sung in pseudo-recitative style on one chord, by the whole choir.

soloist: Ruth Portelli (s); quartet: Hilda Grima (s), Antonella Mercieca (a), Mario Portelli (t), George Borg (b)

9. IMPROPERIA PER IL VENERDÌ SANTO

The function of the Improperia per il Venerdì Santo – The Reproaches for the Good Friday-afternoon solemnity – has a unique place in the Roman Catholic Liturgy: they contain the ‘Reproofs’, sung in a formalised version with the Trisagion during the highly-dramatic ceremony of the Veneration of the Holy Cross. After the singing of ‘Ecce lignum crucis’ (Behold the wood of the cross [...] come, let us adore) by the officiating priest, the first Reproach is sung: ‘Popule meus’ (O my people, what have I done to you?), followed by the refrain ‘Hagios o Theos’, which is performed three times in alternation with other Reproaches. Galea sets The Reproaches for solos bass – the ‘Vox Christi’, traditionally associated in the eighteenth century with the figure of Jesus Christ – accompanied by an SATB quartet and, at times, answered antiphonally by the full choir. ‘Hagios o Theos’ is assigned to the choir performing in imitation on ‘Sanctus Fortis’. In this highly-original a cappella work, the composer manages to capture incomparable artistic expressivity combined with spiritual depth. After the third reproach, the quartet sings in pianissimo the concluding verse in unison, only to flower into a luminous harmonisation at the very end.

soloist: Noel Galea (b); quartet: Yvonne Galea (s1), Hilda Grima (s2), Joseph Camilleri (t), George Borg (b)

10. CRUX FIDELIS

This is another hymn for Passiontide, based on the eighth verse of the Pange Lingua written by the medieval poet and hymnodist Venantius Fortunatus. Galea’s setting, for solo soprano and choir, presents concurrently sweet and bleak harmonies, inspired by the mystical aura surrounding the contemplation of Christ on the Cross. Of particular interest here is the expressive outburst of ‘Dulce lignum, dulci clavo, dulce pondus sustinens!’; the reverence and awe generated by the text – ‘sweetest wood, sweetest iron, sweetest weight is hung on thee!’ – resonate in the harmonic progression that supports the solo soprano’s melodic line.

soloist: Yvonne Galea (s)

11. PANIS ANGELICUS

The ever popular Panis Angelicus, another text in Honour of the Blessed Sacrament, is carefully set to music making use of fine detail and subtleties, rendering this well-known hymn, written by St Thomas Aquinas, a devotional one indeed.

12. AVE MARIA

This chant in Honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is one of the most popular texts ever set to music by many composers throughout the ages. This setting, for solo soprano and organ, is particularly expressive, and is laden with harmonic shifts that are crafted with clarity, purposely serving as a most humble offering to invoke grace towards, and in praise of the Virgin Mary.

soloist: Yvonne Galea (s)

13. EGO SUM PANIS VIVUS

Adapted from the Gospel of John, this sonorous motet, Ego Sum Panis Vivus, scored for solo bass, solo soprano and SATB choir, makes creative use of uncanny techniques to bring out the meaning of the words: ‘I am myself the bread which has come down from heaven’. The imitative counterpoint that opens this work develops unexpectedly into a serene fusion of modal-tonal harmonies. The brief duet between soprano and bass dwells on pseudo-twelve-tone harmony that is carefully disguised amid consonant-dissonant harmonies. The motet comes to a triumphant close on the word ‘Alleluia’.

soloist: Yvonne Galea (s), Noel Galea (s)

Dr Frederick Aquilina

(Senior Lecturer - Music Studies Department,University of Malta)

© 2015.

 

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