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Choral Evensong for the Feast of St. Augustine
see end of review for track listing
The Crypt Choir of The King’s School, Canterbury/Howard Ionascu
David Newsholme (organ)
rec. 16, 17, 19, 24 April, 2013, Canterbury Cathedral. DDD
English sung and spoken texts included

It was St. Augustine who brought Christianity to England, landing in Kent in 597. He established a Christian foundation in Canterbury, including a monastic school. The school was re-founded by King Henry VIII (1509-47) after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. As The King’s School, Canterbury it has flourished ever since and is now a leading, co-educational, independent boarding school. There’s a King’s School in Gloucester, where I live, and it’s often struck me - a little cheekily, perhaps - that the pupils there have a pretty fine ‘school chapel’, namely the adjacent Gloucester Cathedral. The Canterbury school can boast an equally splendid ‘chapel’: Canterbury Cathedral where the school community regularly holds services.
There seems to be a strong musical life in the school and The Crypt Choir is the school’s senior choir. On this recording it numbers 13 sopranos, 10 altos (male and female), 6 tenors and 14 basses. The service, recorded in the Quire of the cathedral under studio conditions, is Evensong for the Feast of St. Augustine of Canterbury, which is celebrated on 26 May, the presumed date of Augustine’s death. Since a complete service has been recorded you get all the spoken parts of the liturgy and I wonder how often listeners will want to hear all of this, Everything is well done, though, and lovers of the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible will be glad to hear those majestic phrases so well enunciated.
What of the music? Well Howard Ionascu is ready to stretch his young singers - and rightly so. The Howells canticles are among the glories of the Anglican repertoire and the Bairstow anthem poses its challenges too. Indeed, none of the music in this programme is easy - and it’s certainly not easy to do well. There are times when one notices a certain lack of body in the lower voices - but this is, after all, a school choir - and it’s a pity that here, as in so many other choirs, tenors are in short supply. The sopranos are a bit too prominent in the psalms, especially in Psalm 150. However, there’s much more - a great deal - to set in the credit column of the ledger. The choir has clearly been very well trained indeed and their singing is disciplined and committed. Tuning is good and overall I enjoyed listening to them very much.
They make a very good first impression with Howells’ setting of words by Ursula Vaughan Williams, A Hymn for Saint Cecilia. The choral sound is bright, fresh and well projected and the diction is clear. It’s a shrewd choice, too, because the choir is able to make a strong initial impact with a unison verse, though they continue to impress in the subsequent harmonised stanzas.
They make a good job of the wonderful Collegium Regale Canticles. The sopranos produce a pleasing sound in the opening of the Magnificat and the phrases are very nicely shaped. In the doxology one feels some lack of depth in the choir’s tone but they launch into the doxology with great gusto - and understandably so; this is music to send a shiver down the spine. Oddly, I didn’t sense quite the same lack of depth in the doxology of the Nunc Dimittis.
For the demanding solo in the ‘Nunc’ there’s a guest singer, Rupert Reid and he is good. When we get to the Bairstow anthem, however, the soprano soloist in the final stanza of the text is home grown: Evangeline Kanagasooriam makes a lovely, rounded sound and sings the solo most intelligently. The choir does this anthem very well, singing with fine commitment. However, in parts of this piece I think the organ is too loud. It’s also too potent in Alan Ridout’s lusty hymn and in one or two other places in the programme. The volume of sound produced would be fine to accompany a large congregation singing hymns in this building but for accompanying just over forty young voices it’s a bit too much of a good thing at times.
The last item we hear from the choir is Rheinberger’s little unaccompanied Bleib bei Uns and they do this very well, singing it with fine feeling.
I enjoyed this disc. Other than the caveat about the organ sound - and it must be said that it’s an exciting sound - the recording itself is very good. The booklet is very nicely produced. However, the main thing is the quality of the music making and the members of the Crypt Choir, skilfully guided by Howard Ionascu, can feel proud of their achievement.
John Quinn  

Track listing
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Organ Prelude: Sursum Corda [4:09]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
A Hymn for Saint Cecilia [3:14]
Introduction, General Confessions and Absolution. The Lord’s Prayer [4:08]
Richard SHEPHERD (b. 1949)
Preces [1:09]
Psalm 23 [2:29]
Psalm 150 [1:54]
First Lesson: Isaiah 49: 22-25 [1:19]
Hymn: I Vow to Thee, my Country (arr. Holst) [2:38]
Magnificat (Collegium Regale) [5:35]
Second Lesson: Thessalonians 2:2-8 [1:49]
Nunc Dimittis (Collegium Regale) [4:11]
Apostles’ Creed [0:53]
Responses. Collects [5:02]
Edward BAIRSTOW (1874-1946)
Blessed City, Heavenly Salem [9:00]
Prayers [2:54]
Hymn: To God, with Heart and Cheerful Voice (arr. Alan Ridout) [2:26]
Blessing [0:23]
Josef RHEINBERGER (1839-1901)
Bleib bei Uns [2:59]
Alla Marcia [3:10]