“Giles Swayne's A Convocation of Worms (1995) is a 20-minute cantata for countertenor and organ setting a thoroughly alarming 15th-century text, adapted from the Coventry miracle plays, in which Death, appearing at Herod's court after the massacre of the innocents, effects instant retribution, declaring that 'where I smite, there is no grace'. This stark mixture of menace and lament is a gift for a composer with Swayne's propensity for questioning received social and religious conventions from the inside, and even if the austerity of the work's central stages risks some loss of impact, the effect of the whole is powerful and memorable. Stephen Wallace and Michael Bonaventure do it proud, and it's recorded, like everything on the disc, in a spacious acoustic which doesn't compromise clarity of texture.
One short, bold organ piece apart, the rest of the music is choral, and includes three of Swayne's most attractive successes: Magnificat, The Tiglet (that is, Blake's 'The Tyger'), and Missa Tiburtina. The National Youth Choir of Great Britain and its offshoot Laudibus tackle this music with enormous energy and skill.
There is less to enjoy in Midwinter – setting Christina Rossetti's cringingly sentimental verse in 2003 might be thought a touch eccentric – but the Four Passiontide Motets include some of Swayne's most cogent musical imagery and abound in imaginative textures. A highly commendable enterprise.”