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Samuel Sebastian WESLEY (1810-1876) Ascribe Unto the Lord
Blessed be the God and Father - anthem for four-part choir and organ (1833) [7:23]
Wash me throughly from my wickedness - anthem for four-part choir and organ (nd) [4:35]
Ascribe unto the Lord - anthem for four-part choir and organ (1851) [14:00]
Samuel WESLEY (1766-1837)
Psalms 42 and 43 (nd.) [7:27]
Samuel Sebastian WESLEY
Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in E major (1844) [10:13]
The wilderness and the solitary place - anthem for five-part choir and organ (1832) [12:38]
Larghetto in F sharp minor (c. 1842) [5:54]
O give thanks unto the Lord - anthem for five-part choir and organ (1835) [8:12]
O Thou who camest from above - hymn for four-part choir and organ (1834) [2:41]
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace - anthem for five-part choir and organ (c. 1850) [3:55]
The Choir of St John's College, Cambridge/Andrew Nethsingha
John Challenger (organ)
rec. 20-22 April 2012, St John's College Chapel, Cambridge
CHANDOS CHAN 10751 [77:10]


Comparable Wesley Anthem Recordings:-
 
York Minster (2010)
Clare College, Cambridge (2006)
Exeter College, Oxford (2002)
 
Samuel Sebastian Wesley was one of the major figures of Victorian music. In addition to his fame as a composer he was equally well-known - or infamous - for his obstreperous personality and his constant efforts to raise the standards of cathedral performance and composition. He served in five churches and four cathedrals in the course of his career. When one also considers that he was the grandson of the great hymn-writer, the grand nephew of the Apostle of Methodism and the son of an equally talented and eccentric composer, one could see that he would be hard to miss in the mid-Victorian world.
 
This disc comprises several of Wesley’s most famous anthems as well as an Evening Service (part of a set of services for the complete day), a well-known hymn (Hereford), an organ Larghetto and a sturdy psalm setting by Wesley’s father Samuel. While Samuel Sebastian is known as a composer of anthems and hymns, he also wrote a large amount of organ music, much of it for domestic, not ecclesiastical, consumption. The Larghetto was written for chamber organ and is in a more classical style than the anthems but equally demonstrative of Wesley’s sensitivity to key relationships. The Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis impresses with its skilful writing in eight parts and Wesley’s ability to set this somewhat difficult text as dramatically as he does his anthems.
 
Wesley inaugurated his anthem-writing career with The Wilderness and the Solitary Place of 1832. This is a mini-oratorio and its complexity must have astounded listeners at the premiere in Hereford Cathedral. Equally astounding would have been its operaticsense of drama and its independent organ part. Blessed be the God and Father, written about a year later, is equally impressive, showing a great advance in Wesley’s harmonic and dramatic abilities. Somewhat less inspiring is O Give Thanks Unto the Lord, but this still shows increasing technical ability and has a beautiful treble solo.
 
The key to Wesley’s anthems is his skill in part-writing. He uses this ability to focus and increase the dramatic intensity of the music. This is no more evident than in the famous short anthem Wash Me Throughly where the vocal lines convey the isolation so evident in the text of Psalm 51. Ascribe unto the Lord (from c. 1851) is another extended anthem with an almost programmatic contrast between the idol-worshippers and those “that fear the Lord”. The spirit of Mendelssohn is very evident in this work but the vocal texture is all Wesley. The last anthem on the disc Thou Wilt Keep Him in Perfect Peace is perhaps the ultimate refinement of Wesley’s life-long search for the utmost simplicity of both emotion and means of expression.
 
Most of the works on this disc have been recorded many times before (see below). Only the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis is something of a rarity. Sonically, the combination here of Wesley’s music and Scott’s chapel - roughly contemporaneous as they are - is not always felicitous. There is a frequent deadening of the basses’ lowest notes and the opposite effect on the trebles. The St. John’s choir itself sings beautifully, especially in the larger, five-part, anthems, although the there are some individual problems with bass and treble solos. The organist John Challenger is to be commended both for his playing both of the Larghetto and of the accompaniments to the anthems.
 
The chief merit of this disc, however, is the leadership of Andrew Nethsingha. He brings complete clarity to the complex vocal lines while never losing sight of the dramatic import of the text and of the overall musical structure. His previous recordings at St. John’s (see reviews 1, 2) have frequently been exemplary and this one is no exception. For this reason this disc ranks highly as a basic compendium of Wesley’s music.

William Kreindler

see also review by Johan van Veen


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