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Gramophone Magazine Review, A Tender Light

Posted on 21st March 2012

Paul Mealor’s stock as a composer increased beyond all expectation after the performance of his achingly beautiful Ubi caritas at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in April 2011. Not many thirty-something composers can claim to have been heard by 2.5 billion people. But one swallow does not a summer make, and the true test of Mealor’s creative prowess will be judged against his ability to sustain such lyrical and transcendent serenity over the course of an entire recording.

All the signs on ‘A Tender Light’ suggest that Mealor has more than met the challenge here. This is certainly not a recording of Ubi caritas spin-offs. Indeed, if there is a spin-off, then it is Ubi caritas itself, which is a re-setting of the more effective Now sleeps the crimson petal(Tennyson’s poem was considered too risqué for the Royal occasion). The latter is part of a luminous cycle of rose-related texts, which opens the recording. The other ‘cycle’, Mealor’s setting of the Stabat mater, is in many respects the highlight here. Soprano Grace Davidson imbues the melodic line with a wonderfully sustained quality in the second section and the highly impressive Tenebrae directed by Nigel Short pull out all the vocal stops at the right moments.

While the stormy outbursts of earlier works such as the Piano Trio have been eschewed for far calmer waters, there is still plenty of dramatic contrast and dynamic control in ‘A Tender Light’, such as in the tintinnabular-inspired O vos omnes. Mealor has finally found his true compositional voice here – one that manages to avoid the mawkishness of much that characterises recent tonally imbued choral music. It all suggests that his stock will indeed continue to rise.

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