Evensong Live 2016 The Choir of King's College Cambridge/Stephen
Cleobury King’s Voices (Howells Te Deum)
Tom Etheridge (organ) Douglas Tang (organ: Gibbons)
rec. live 2014-2015, Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge
Texts and translations included KING’S COLLEGE KGS0015 [73:00]
The title of this collection is very slightly confusing in that all the pieces were recorded at services of Evensong during the Lent and Easter terms of 2014 and 2015. The King’s choir regularly makes its Evensong services available as webcasts through the choir’s own website – details at the end of this review – and that’s the source of these recordings.
Connections with Cambridge University and specifically with King’s College abound in this programme. Stanford studied at Trinity College and was, from 1887 the university’s Professor of Music; Vaughan Williams obtained his D. Mus. From Cambridge; Howells had a wartime connection with St John’s College as acting Organist and later wrote a complete set of Anglican services, the ‘Collegium Regale’, for King’s. Further back in time Orlando Gibbons was a member of King’s College – and of its choir – in the 1590s; some sixty years earlier Christopher Tye also sang in the King’s choir. More recently, George Benjamin, Judith Weir and Francis Grier all studied at King’s, the latter as Organ Scholar.
The King’s choir is heard here in a wide range of music, all of it demanding in different ways I admired the solo treble, Tom Hopkins, in Stanford’s memorable Magnificat. Indeed, all the members of the choir who are summoned into the spotlight at various times do very well, none more so than two tenors. Joel Williams makes a very fine showing in Gibbons’ This is the record of John and Toby Ward surmounts the significant challenge posed by the tenor solos in George Benjamin’s anthem.
Vaughan Williams’ visionary Bunyan anthem, Valiant-for-Truth receives a fine performance while Messiaen’s rapt and sensuous setting of O sacrum convivium is sung with concentration and focus: here the languorous ‘Alleluia’ near the end is particularly rewarding to hear. Tippett’s Magnificat, written for St John’s College, Cambridge, poses real challenges to the musicians. The choral writing is demanding – and very interesting - while the organ part is often flamboyant. Stephen Cleobury and his team make a fine job of it.
They’re also tested by George Benjamin’s anthem ‘Twas in the year that King Uzziah died. I’ve heard this before but not often and I gather from the booklet note that it remains unpublished. That’s a surprise because it’s a highly effective piece. It was written for King’s and the writing, both for choir and organ, is highly imaginative. Nicholas Marston suggests in his notes that the high-lying tessitura of the solo tenor part may well have been inspired by the presence in the choir at that time of Charles Daniels. Also very effective are two a cappella pieces: Judith Weir’s George Herbert setting, Vertue and Magnificamus by Francis Grier. The latter is part of a larger, unpublished work: Lit by holy fire: A Celebration of Vespers.
The only composer who is twice represented in the programme is Herbert Howells. He wrote settings of the Morning and/or Evening Canticles for a number of specific churches and their choirs and, as we’re reminded in the notes, he always took trouble before composing any of these settings not only to familiarise himself with the choir in question but also with the acoustic of the church in which the music was to be performed. Probably the acoustic of Gloucester Cathedral was better known to him than any other for he had served his musical apprenticeship there under Sir Herbert Brewer. That may be why his ‘Mag’ and ‘Nunc’ for Gloucester is one of his most inspired sets of Canticles. The Magnificat is memorable from start to finish, not least the spine-tingling doxology. It’s splendidly performed here. The Te Deum was part of his Matins setting which formed the first instalment of the Collegium Regale music. This is not usually heard at Evensong but its inclusion here is fully justified because the performance in question was given on a special occasion, namely a service of music and readings which took place on 20 January 2015 as part of the celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the completion of the fabric of the College Chapel. On this occasion the King’s Choir was augmented by the King’s Voices. This is an SATB student choir, formed in 1997, which, among other things, sings Evensong on Mondays during term time. The combined choir gives a splendidly festal performance of Howells’ great setting; it’s a fine way to end this programme.
The King’s choir is on excellent form throughout this collection of pieces, demonstrating admirable consistency. Most of the pieces that require organ accompaniment feature the playing of Tom Etheridge who excels in a wide variety of music. However, in the Gibbons item he gets a chance to conduct the choir while his fellow Organ Scholar, Douglas Tang does the accompanying honours.
The recorded sound is very good and, like the choir’s performances, very consistent. There are extraneous noises which remind us that these performances were captured live during services but the “noises off” are nothing to worry about. The content of the booklet is very good, including useful notes by Nicholas Marston, the College’s Director of Studies in Music and Vice-Provost. My only quibble with the booklet is the minute font in which everything is printed.
This CD offers a rewarding overview of the weekly work of this celebrated choir.
Track Listing Sir Hubert PARRY (1848-1918) At the round earth’s imagined corners [7:03] Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924) Evening Service in G: Magnificat [4:10] Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Valiant-for-Truth (1942) [5:43] Sir William WALTON (1902-1983) Jubilate (1972) [3:36] Henry PURCELL (1659-1695) Iehova, quam multi sunt [6:29] Orlando GIBBONS ((1583-1625) This is the record of John* [4:09] Christopher TYE (c1505-c1573) Laudate nomen Domini [1:57] Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988) Drop, drop, slow tears [2:00] Sir Michael TIPPETT (1905-1998) ‘Collegium Sancti Johannis Cantabrigiense’: Magnificat (1961) [4:19] Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992) O sacrum convivium (1937) [4:10] Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983) Magnificat (Gloucester Service) (1946) [6:45] George BENJAMIN (b 1960) 'Twas in the year that King Uzziah died (1980) [6:33] Francis GRIER (b 1955) Magnificamus [3:30] Judith WEIR (b 1954) Vertue (2005) [3:14] Herbert HOWELLS Morning Service (Collegium Regale): Te Deum (1944) [8:54]