Samuel WESLEY (1766-1837) Confitebor tibi, Domine - Psalm 111 for SATB voices, chorus and orchestra (1799) [58:59]
Claire Seaton (soprano); Susanne Holmes (mezzo-soprano); Nicholas Sharratt (tenor); Jonathan Brown (baritone)
Portsmouth Choral Union
Southern Pro Musica/David Gostick
rec. Elder Concert Hall, Bryanston School, UK, 2017 PRIORY RECORDS PRCD1186 [58:59]
Samuel Wesley, the son of the hymn-smith Charles Wesley
and the nephew of John Wesley, the two founders of Methodism, was a
very considerable musical talent. He was an exceptional keyboard player
and violinist as well as being a far from insignificant composer. This
setting of Confitebor Tibi, Domine (I will give thanks unto
the Lord) was written in the summer of 1799. It was premiered on 4 May
1826 at London's Argyll Rooms on Regent Street. While comparisons
with Handel and Haydn can be found it is Mozart who seems to be a continuous
presence throughout this ambitious hour-long work. Samuel Wesley has
been called the "English Mozart" and I see that he was born
ten years after Mozart but, gifted with a longer life, died 46 years
The ever repertoire-questing David Gostick has been music director of
the Portsmouth Choral Union (PCU) since 2012 and before that had been
conductor of the Bournemouth Sinfonietta Choir since 2003. The booklet
for this CD is a commodious home for a profile of Confitebor Tibi,
Domine by Philip Olleson, for profiles of all the artists and ensembles
engaged and for the sung words in the original Latin and in English
translation. This is not, in any event, a wordy setting but makes liberal
use of melisma and repetition. The recording is in 15 tracks which enables
you to follow Wesley's floor-plan for this considerable choral
work. According to the well laid-out booklet, the PCU is 221 strong.
They sound it, although they sing with splendid weight as well as with
fine enunciation and delicacy. They are joined by the Southern Pro Musica,
true collaborators in style and accomplishment. The orchestral specification
is 184.108.40.206 – 220.127.116.11 – timpani – organ – strings.
There is a nicely poised division of musical wealth between the orchestra
and the voices massed and solo.
The work’s first latter-day revival came in York Minster on 10
June 1972. Its modern PCU premiere took place on 11 March 2017 with
these forces at St. Mary's Fratton. They made this recording
two weeks later.
The rapturous quartet of solo voices launches the first movement of
Confitebor tibi, Domine preceded by a blessedly easeful orchestral
introduction. The spirited choir enters for the Magna opera.
Jonathan Brown, a steady and true bass-baritone with a tobacco-dark
complexion to his voice, undertakes the Confessio. This is
done with delightful giddy singing on a constantly turning melody. Wesley
accords him a most impressive melisma. The chorus reappear with soothing
woodwind for Memoriam fecit. This comes across as a pastoral
idyll but with a sense of purposeful progress. It is rather reminiscent
of Beethoven's Pastoral. The honeyed pianissimo
singing and floating delight of the choir is memorable.
Nicholas Sharratt's slightly nasal delivery for the slow Memor
Erit put me in mind of fellow tenor Gerald English - a good memory
of a singer rather underestimated (try his On Wenlock Edge
on a Unicorn CD). There are stormy delights in the Virtutem operum.
This is coupled with good word-shaping and delivery. One might have
feared a choral blur of sound but the words are distinct and audible.
Claire Seaton in Ut det illis is impressively stormy. Then
follows the Mozartean orchestral zest of the SPM in the ten-minute-long
Fidelia omnia, including some beneficently articulated horn
phrasing. All this is delivered despite the twists and turns of Wesley's
writing. The soprano darts and curvets in what is a true display piece.
It is masterfully done and the singer surmounts every challenge in the
Mozartean book. She does so musically and this despite the cruel demands
of Wesley's Der Hölle Rache-style melisma. In the following
Redemptionem, after all that display, the soprano and alto
are heard seemingly lost in wonder at the sending of redemption and
Mandavit is in the manner of a round with much repetition and
skilled tiering of voices: men-v-women. The Initium movement
includes much dainty and dignified woodwind work and a jolly part for
the vinegary tenor. The following Intellectus has the baritone
in a darker declamatory role. The lento adagio writing has
great dignity and again serenade-like writing for the woodwind which
in part suggests the parade ground. Then, in the only trio for the soloists,
there comes a Laudatio ejus. The solo voices intertwine in
music of praise that is intricately fleet of foot. The Gloria patri
boasts some spiritual inward singing quite untypical of its words "Glory
be to the Father". One might have expected a conflagration of dazzling
sound. In fact, its steady progress evokes the slow dripping of honey.
Finally, in the Sicut erat happiness glows from the choir as
it sings "As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world
without end". Typically, this extensive and astonishing work ends
in life-enhancing twists and turns of musical phrasing.
This recording was made possible due to what must have been a generous
legacy from Marion Earll who had been a long-standing member of the
PCU. I see that the paperback score was published by Musica Britannica
Trust via Stainer and Bell in 1978. It was edited by John Marsh (1904-1994)
and runs to 236pp. The score is priced at £88.00 although Amazon has
it secondhand at considerably less.
Having comes to terms with this well booted and suited piece you might
like to strike out in other Samuel Wesley directions. If so, then next
explore five of the Wesley symphonies on Chandos
under the invigorating guiding hand of Matthias Bamert.
Wesley, unsurprisingly, considered Confitebor his masterpiece
and although I am not familiar with his other works I am not at all
surprised; such is its quality.
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