The mystic in the music, a CD review

Ave Generosa is the latest release by Margaret Rizza and is a must have for music lovers, church goers, choir members and church music directors everywhere. It’s been a rough year around the world, with many of us missing our usual musical and spiritual outlets. If you’ve been feeling the same way then Ave Generosa might be the antidote. Pop it in the player and be transported.

My introduction to Margaret and her music happened earlier this year. During Lent 2020, St. Peter’s Choir in Toorak featured a work by living UK composer Margaret Rizza each communion (see previous blog entry). Things were going so well when things, well, went off the rails. No further explanation needed.  

Margaret had already sent an email of encouragement and support for the music series, so I thought it right to email her back with the news that St. Peter’s, along with all the churches in Victoria, was now closed. 

“The new CD which was recorded the middle of February up in London just as the Coronavirus exploded on the world,” Margaret emailed back. “It should all be finished around the Summer and then be ready for distribution around October.  As I have promised I will of course send you a copy.” 

Margaret Rizza Biography - Composer of Christian Choral Music, Chart  topping Taizé Chants

For me, this little exchange sums up so about Church music composer and Royal School of Church Music patron, Margaret Rizza. Margaret is a very busy and productive nonagenarian, with her new career as church music composer in full bloom and multiple albums in circulation after her so called ‘retirement’ in 1997 from singing and teaching. 

My heartfelt gratitude to Margaret and all those who worked on the CD. A wonderful gift of music and food for the soul in what has been a very challenging year. 

Ave Generosa: a musical journey with the mystics is a collection of 13 works composed by Margaret Rizza with assorted texts. The CD has words by St. John of the Cross, Hildegard von Bingen and two 20th century monks, one a Benedictine and the other a Trappist. Just in time for Advent, Margaret includes several O Antiphons in addition to an Ave Maria, new settings of Psalms and Proverbs, and the Trinity Blessing. 

This is a serious journey, however, not some time travelling romp. And that is what shines through in Margaret’s musical settings. There are echoes of plainchant and lovely organistic dissonances which add gravitas to Margaret’s very melodic writing. These sounds transported me straight to church. To give you an idea here is an earlier version of the title track (Ave Generosa) by renown British choir, The Sixteen.

The vocal writing does showcase the skill of singers. Words are clear and easily understood. Everything about the writing is musical, but it’s not at the expense of understanding. The music contributes to the meaning of the text. You also get a sense of variety, with some tracks featuring solo singers, or with instrument obbligato. 

The CD uses a variety of vocal and instrumental combinations which add colour and depth to the recording. It also allows the technical load to be shared between soli and choir. And could be easily replicated by church music groups here. 

Like many of you, I have a small group of dedicated choir members who sing regularly throughout the year. Finding music is often difficult with varying numbers at practice and everyone at their own ability. Communion lasts approx. 4 mins. Margaret gets it. And she composes with this in mind. 

In this collection of work, the choir work is lovely, clear, well balanced and the overall feeling is one of church, the divine and the mystic in the music. 

In fact, the Gaudete Ensemble was started as a small church choir, augmented by students and young professional singers at special occasions, founded by Margaret. From humble volunteer village beginnings, Gaudete Ensemble is now fully professional with a busy touring and recording schedule. Another living, singing, credit to the composer. 

Source: https://conviviumrecords.co.uk/gaudete-ensemble/

Ave Generosa: a musical journey with the mystics was recorded by Convivium Records and produced for RSCM (UK). You can purchase copies from https://www.margaretrizza.com/.

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