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The Merton Collection - Merton College at 750
Track-listing at end of review
Anne Steppler (organ)
Choir of Merton College, Oxford/Peter Phillips and Benjamin Nicholas
rec. 13-15 April, 2013, Merton College Chapel, Oxford. DDD
Booklet with texts and translations included
DELPHIAN DCD34134 [74:04]

Although in September 2014, Merton College, Oxford, celebrates the 750th anniversary of its foundation, its choir in its present form is much younger than might be expected. It dates only from the resolution in 2006 to establish eighteen choral scholars and two organ scholars, under the joint directorship of music of Benjamin Nicholas and Peter Phillips, the latter better known as the founder and director of the Tallis Scholars.
 
This specially conceived programme covers those 750 years of the choral repertoire, not quite literally because the earliest composer here, John Dunstaple or Dunstable, was born more than a century after Merton’s establishment. Designed to demonstrate this relatively young establishment’s prowess, the recording also provides a bird’s-eye view of some important moments in musical history, and features two composers - John Dunstaple and Lennox Berkeley - associated with the College, as well as the four works specially commissioned for the choir which are asterisked in the listing at the end of the review.
 
I can be quite brief in recommending this recording because we apparently received two copies for review and my colleague, John Quinn, has already got his thoughts online - review. We do tend to cover much the same repertoire - my reviews in the bi-monthly Download News which I formerly edited often duplicating JQ’s on the main MusicWeb International pages. It’s rare that we disagree to any significant degree. On this occasion we greatly enjoyed both the way that the programme fits together - this kind of historical survey doesn’t always come off, certainly not as well as it does here - and the quality of the performance. Benjamin Nicholls and Peter Phillips share the directing honours.
 
I especially enjoyed the three works specifically composed for Merton; they have in common the kind of modern-yet-timeless quality that works well for me, something which they share with Arvo Pärt. If you’re not sure, try the programme from Naxos Music Library if you can; you’ll also find the booklet there.
 
The acoustic of Merton Chapel was tailor-made for choral recording. I recall some enjoyable choral concerts there when I was an undergrad in the early 1960s. It was much more to my taste than the brief reign of the Merton peacocks whose raucous cries interrupted my sleep as far away as the other end of the High Street. Both the Tallis Scholars on Gimell and next-door Christ Church Cathedral Choir on Avie have made many fine recordings there. The latter apparently now prefer to record in Merton Chapel rather than at Dorchester on Thames Abbey as they once did for Nimbus. Nor is it the first time that Delphian have recorded there: Die Vögel unter dem Himmel (DCD34043, music by Scheidt and Schütz - review) and Sanctum est verum lumen (DCD34045: Recording of the Month - review), both with the National Youth Choir, were made there. Couple that acoustic with the recording quality in evidence on this CD - I see that it was made in 24-bit format, so my only regret that it isn’t (yet?) available as a 24-bit download - and the detailed and informative notes which Delphian include in the booklet and you have another winner to add to their earlier successes: In the Beginning, the first Merton/Delphian production (DCD34072) - review - and Recording of the Month review - and Advent at Merton (DCD34122) - review and Download News 2012/23.
 
Brian Wilson 

Previous review: John Quinn
 
Track-listing
 
Ēriks EšENVALDS (b.1977) Magnificat, Nunc dimittis (Merton College Service)* [3:54 + 2:55]
John DUNSTAPLE (c.1390-1435) Veni Sancte Spiritus/Veni Creator [5:07]
John SHEPPARD (c,1515-1558) Libera nos, salva nos I [2:42]
Arvo PÄRT (b.1935) The Woman with the Alabaster Box [5:19]
Hubert PARRY (1848-1918) There is an old belief [4:54]
William BYRD (1539/40-1623) Praise our Lord, all ye Gentiles [2:45]
Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625) This is the record of John [4:09]
Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989) Veni sponsa Christi [2:44]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695) Hear my prayer, O Lord [2:14]; Remember not, Lord, our offences [2:47]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Valiant-for-truth [5:14]
Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924) Justorum animæ [3:19]; Beati quorum via [3:34]
William MUNDY (c.1529-1591) Magnificat, Nunc dimittis (Second Service ‘in F fa ut’) [5:27 + 2:39]
James LAVINO (b.1973) Beati quorum via (Merton Choirbook)* [3:36]
Maurice GREENE (1696-1755) Lord, let me know mine end [6:09]
Ola GJEILO (b.1978) Sacred Origins (Merton Choirbook)* [4:26]
* premiere recordings 
 


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