AN ENGLISH CHORISTER’S SONGBOOK
Sir Hubert Parry (1848-1918): I was glad*
William Byrd (1543-1623): Sing joyfully
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809-1847): Hear my prayer*
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750): Jesu, joy of man’s desiring*
Sir William Walton (1902-1983): Set me as a seal upon thy heart
Thomas Weelkes (ca 1574-1623):O Lord, grant the King a long life
Thomas Tallis (1505-1585): If ye love me
Richard Shepherd (b 1949): And when the builders*
Sir Charles Stanford (1852-1924): Beati quorum via
Henry Walford Davies (1869-1941): Psalm 121
Herbert Howells (1892-1983): Like as the hart*
Thomas Tallis: Salvator mundi
Peter Phillips (1560-1630): O crux splendidor
Sir Hubert Parry: My soul, there is a country
Claudio Monteverdi: (1567-1643): Beatus vir
Sir William Harris (1883-1947): Bring us O Lord God
Salisbury Cathedral Choir directed by Richard Seal.
*With David Hall / Thomas Blunt (organ)
Recorded in Salisbury Cathedral, 6 – 8 March 1996
METRONOME MET CD 1016 [74.00]
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The opening of Parry’s anthem, I was glad is one of the most arresting in the English choral repertoire and it must have been a natural choice to open this recital of popular items which are at the heart of the repertoire of every English cathedral choirs. Sadly, the performance here fails to meet expectations. The trouble is the balance of the voices. The trebles do not register strongly enough while individual inner voices are often too prominent – the altos in particular. At first, I thought this might be because the engineers had placed the microphones too close to the singers in order to balance them against the powerful sound of the organ. However, the choir appears to occupy the same place in the sound picture for the remainder of the programme. After repeated hearings I have come to the conclusion that the problem lies with the singers themselves. Some of them are simply trying too hard and over sing as a result. I suspect this is particularly true of those male singers who have to sing a part by themselves in this anthem for double choir. (The choir consists of 17 trebles, three each of altos and tenors, and two basses.) I’m sorry to labour this point but it is not a satisfactory recorded performance and makes an unfortunate initial impression.
Happily, things improve thereafter, particularly in items where the singing is more relaxed. There is, for example, a very pleasing performance of Howell’s Like as the hart and the two Tallis pieces are well done. Mendelssohn’s Hear my prayer would not be on my list of desert island anthems – frankly, I find it a piece which greatly outstays its welcome. However, the treble soloist here (the Head Chorister, Benjamin Dean, I assume) sings the demanding solo role very well and he receives good support from his colleagues. The other items are generally well sung, though I noted a few occasions when pitching seemed just a touch "queasy" during the Stanford anthem where al sections of the choir have to come to terms with some extremely demanding long, floating lines.
There is one item which was new to me, though it has been recorded at least twice before. This is the anthem, And when the builders by Richard Shepherd. The notes tell us that this was commissioned by the Friends of Salisbury Cathedral (but not when) and that it celebrates the cathedral itself and its construction. It is an exuberant, rhythmically buoyant piece, the style of which rather reminded me of William Mathias or even Walton. I enjoyed both the music, and the performance it receives here, very much.
The recital opened with a less than fully successful performance of a masterpiece of English church music. It closes with another masterpiece but this time the choir rise splendidly to the challenge of Harris’, Bring us, O Lord God. This hugely demanding, radiant anthem is for double choir and is in the remote key of D flat. Though the Salisbury singers lack, perhaps the last degree of ecstasy which distinguishes the finest accounts I have heard, their performance is secure and it brings the disc to a satisfying conclusion.
Metronome provide texts of all the pieces as well as translations where appropriate. The notes are translated into four languages but are rather superficial. Recorded sound is satisfactory.
The programme presents a nice selection of the most popular items in this repertoire. However, it enters an extremely competitive market and, ultimately, lacks the last degree of distinction. I’m afraid I can’t honestly recommend this disc as a best buy since there are several similar compilations available which represent better value for money. However, anyone wanting this precise programme or a memento of how the Salisbury choir sounded in 1996 will find the recital generally enjoyable.
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