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Choral Songs in Honour of Queen Victoria
A.M. GOODHART (1866-1941) Lady on the silver throne (Edmund Gosse) [4:31]
Arthur SOMERVELL (1863-1937) With still increasing benefits (Marquis of Lorne) [2:23]
C.H. LLOYD (1849-1919) A thousand years, by sea and land (Henry Newbolt) [5:01]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) To her beneath whose steadfast star (Frederic W.H. Myers) [5:16]
C.V. STANFORD (1852-1924) Out in the windy West (Arthur C. Benson [5:07]
Sir Frederick BRIDGE (1844-1924) For all the wonder of thy regal day (Earl of Crewe) [2:58]
Sir John STAINER (1840-1901) Flora's Queen (J.F.R. Stainer) [5:34]
Charles WOOD (1866-1926) A Century's Penultimate (Arthur C. James) [5:03]
Sir A.C. MACKENZIE (1847-1935) With wisdom, goodness, grace (Alfred Austin) [3:42]
Sir Hubert PARRY (1848-1918) Who can dwell with greatness! (Austin Dobson) [3:05]
H. Walford DAVIES (1869-1941) Hark! The world is full of thy praise (Robert Bridges) [4:44]
Sir George MARTIN (1844-1916) The seaboards are her mantle's hem (John Davidson) [3:35]
Sir Walter PARRATT (1841-1924) The Triumph of Victoria (T.H. Warren) [2:20]
Spiritus Chamber Choir/Aidan Oliver
rec. 5-7 August 2002 Challow Park Recital Room, Wantage, Oxfordshire

Experience Classicsonline

N.B. all names of composers and poets as given in the original edition of the collection.

I have been waiting for this collection for many years. Ever since I heard a recording of the 1953 A Garland for the Queen and did a little bit of research into the history and genesis of that project, I have known of the existence of these thirteen excellent examples of Victorian part-song composition. The only problem was that I had never heard any of them. The score is also hard to obtain, there having been only 100 copies in the original print run. So it is hardly likely to turn up in the Oxfam Shop alongside Crucifixion and Olivet to Calvary.

Toccata has done the British music enthusiast proud. Here is a collection of music and texts by the great and the good from the dying days of the nineteenth century. It is a series of part-songs or madrigals that are worthy of the composers and poets represented. It has a stature that easily allows it to claim a place as a successor of its earlier model and the precursor of its more recent successor. It is the premier recording of this work.

The idea of a set of Choral Songs for the Queen was an emulation of the great volume of music published by Thomas Morley, The Triumphs of Oriana. This was dedicated to Good Queen Bess, Queen Elizabeth I. Interestingly, the rediscovery of Elizabethan music was gathering pace in the late nineteenth-century and the work would have been known to scholars and a select group of choirmasters. Great names represented in this collection included John Wilbye, Thomas Tomkins, John Mundy and Thomas Weelkes.

Some three hundred years later, Walter Parratt, the then organist at St. George's Chapel in Windsor, and the writer Arthur Benson collaborated in selecting poets and composers to produce these madrigals for Queen Victoria's 80th birthday which fell on 24 May 1899. A goodly number of poets and authors produced a series of fine and inspiring texts. Names included Henry Newbolt, Alfred Austin, and Robert Bridges. The modern reader, brought up in a politically correct milieu and encouraged to have largely republican sentiments, may find the texts a wee bit hard to relate to. However, a little imagination and goodwill allows the listener to accept such lines as 'A thousand years, by land and sea/Our race has served the island Kings' or perhaps 'To her beneath whose steadfast star/From pole to pole in lusty play/Her English wander...,' in the spirit that they were written.

This was an age that thought very differently about the world, the Sovereign, the Empire and God. It is pointless to rail against this viewpoint from the perspective of 2009.

As an aside, keen readers of this review will notice that a curious omission from the list of poets is Rudyard Kipling. The sleeve-notes point out that he was invited to contribute, but declined. He apparently regretted that he 'never had any luck with occasional verse.'

On the Queen's birthday an 'Aubade' was arranged in the quadrangle of Windsor Castle. This was an al fresco recital given by the joint choirs of St George's Chapel, Eton College and the Windsor Madrigal and Choral Society. Compared to the present recording it was a big choir - with some 250 voices. The Queen listened to a selection of these thirteen songs: she was not present for the first performance of the entire cycle which took place a few days later.

A brief look at the composers' dates show Sir John Stainer as being the eldest, born 1840 through to a young Henry Walford Davies who was born twenty nine years later in 1869. As a group, a few of them lingered on until the nineteen-thirties with Walford Davies and Goodhart dying in 1941. It depends on the listener's previous engagement with this kind of music as to just how well-known the composers are. I guess Elgar, Stanford and Parry will be household names amongst British music enthusiasts. So too will be the Scot, Mackenzie, who managed to combine running the Royal Academy of Music with the composition of a corpus of fine, but relatively unknown works. Most people who have sung in 'quires and places where they sing' will know the music of John Stainer, C.H. Lloyd and Charles Wood. Organists will know of the existence of Walter Parratt. Habitués of Westminster Abbey may well recall the name of Frederick Bridge, or some may have heard his Flag of England cantata which was given an occasional outing over the last century or so. Recently, Arthur Somervell has had a bit of a hit with his fine Violin Concerto - and there is plenty more to explore there. Anyone who has watched the Remembrance Service at the Cenotaph will recall Walford Davies's Solemn Melody. But do they know there is also a Symphony or two? And lastly, who were Messrs. A.M. Goodhart and George Martin? - No relation to the Beatles producer, I guess. They have totally disappeared into the fogs of time.

This is a beautifully produced CD. It feels good, looks great and sounds superb. The quality of the singing is both near-perfect and enthusiastic. The programme notes by Lewis Foreman are a model of erudition and interest: a virtual dissertation on the subject which is illuminating and helpful. Texts of these poems are also provided.

Finally, it would be so easy for a reviewer to take the old adage that Victorian music produced nothing good. For example, I have heard many folk knock the music of John Stainer over the years: I rather like what little I know. These Choral Songs in Honour of Her Majesty Queen Victoria represent the high-water mark of Victorian choral writing and certainly reveal a supremely confident picture of the state of music shortly before the 'official' Renaissance began in earnest.

John France 

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