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Rejoice! 20th Century British Church Music
Benjamin BRITTEN Festival Te Deum
Benjamin BRITTEN Rejoice in the Lamb
Michael TIPPETT Five Negro Spirituals
C. Hubert PARRY I was glad
William WALTON Set me as a seal
Ernest BULLOCK Give us the wings of faith
Herbert HOWELLS Like as the hart
Gerald FINZI God is gone up
William McKIE We wait for Thy loving kindness
Charles WOOD Expectans expectavi
John IRELAND Greater love
Charles Villiers STANFORD Coelos ascendit
Henry Balfour GARDINER Evening Hymn
Choir of Clare College, Cambridge/Timothy Brown
Regis RRC 1040 DDD [76:45]
Around £6 from your dealer

This interesting collection of British choral music mixes the familiar with the unfamiliar, the inspired with the mainstream. Several of the composers represented can be classed as significant figures in the revival of the British choral tradition during the early years of the twentieth century and there are indeed some real gems of the period on display. By contrast there are anthems which whilst perfectly competent in their compositional execution, have little to offer in terms of originality.

The most substantial work is Britten's Rejoice in the Lamb, completed in 1943 as a commission for William Hussey, the vicar of St Matthews in Northampton as a fiftieth birthday present for the church, which was also the recording venue for this disc. This is Britten in mystical mood, the work being cast in ten sections and dealing with the worship of God by all creation as presented in the poem Jubilate Agno by Christopher Smart. There is much to enjoy here, the choir demonstrating an ability to sing with considerable sensitivity when called for. I did feel on several occasions however (both in Rejoice in the Lamb and elsewhere on the disc) that they are a little less comfortable in some of the more powerful passages where there can be a tendency to force the sound of the voices a little too much.

Of the more familiar works, Britten's Festival Te Deum gets the disc off to a pleasing start, its lively central section framed by a contemplative opening, which is mirrored at the end of the work. Tippett's Five Negro Spirituals, Steal Away, Nobody Knows, Go down Moses, O by and by and Deep River, are of course extracted from his oratorio A Child of Our Time. Nobody Knows is particularly effective with some impressively nimble singing giving the quieter passages excellent clarity, less successful perhaps in Go down Moses which for me fails to capture the true character of this particular spiritual. There are some lovely sounds in Deep River to round the set off. I have heard more rousing performances of Hubert Parry's famous anthem I was glad, although the choir are clearly on familiar ground here and despatch a confident performance.

And so to the aforementioned gems. Herbert Howells' setting of Like as the hart, is wonderfully haunting and sung with obvious affection and tenderness by the choir. It is pleasing to see that a considerable quantity of choral music by Howells has surfaced on disc recently and this exquisite setting, in which the gentle influence of Vaughan Williams is present in the background, is surely one of his most sublime inspirations. John Ireland's Greater love builds to a majestic central climax before subsiding to a hushed and moving conclusion whilst Finzi's God is gone up, possesses a sense of joy which the choir clearly relish. A similar sense of unashamed joyousness is evident in Stanford's brief Coelos ascendit, as is the very clear influence of the English madrigalists. Walton's Set me as a seal completes a fine group of works that show the wealth of variety that was emerging in British music during the first half of the twentieth century.

It is good to hear the works by Ernest Bullock, William McKie, Charles Wood and Henry Balfour Gardiner alongside some of their more illustrious colleagues although ultimately, whilst there is much to enjoy in the performances, it is clear that they do not stand close comparison with their bedfellows.

At budget price this disc has to be considered an excellent buy in terms of value for money. Not a disc to listen to all the way through in one sitting perhaps, but I have enjoyed dipping into it regularly since it came my way. There are straightforward booklet notes provided by David Doughty although it is a shame that Regis were not able to reproduce the texts in the booklet. Still, at around six pounds I guess you can't have everything!

Christopher Thomas

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