* Worth hearing
*** Essential listening
A YEAR AT …
A YEAR AT EXETER
Choir of Exeter Cathedral / Timothy Parsons (organ) / Timothy Noon · Regent REGCD524
A YEAR AT LINCOLN
Choir of Lincoln Cathedral / Jeffrey Makinson (organ) / Aric Prentice · Regent REGCD532
I’ve always had a soft spot for Exeter Cathedral; during their latter years my late parents liked to attend Sunday choral evensong sitting in the return stalls under the organ – truly a ringside seat!
Listening to this CD of the cathedral choir under the direction of Timothy Noon has evoked happy memories and it’s marvellous to hear them in good voice.
Regent’s series continues to work well as a framework to reflect music-making at many of our great cathedrals. Alongside the key Christian seasons such as Christmas and Easter, local patron saints and other feast days are celebrated. Exeter’s collection begins with a rousing performance of Howells’s Hymn to St Cecilia. There are some excellent repertoire choices – Robert Parsons, Philip Lawson, Tallis (11 wondrously soaring minutes of Videte miraculum) and Purcell’s Hear my prayer. Also represented are key pieces by John Blow, S.S. Wesley, Hadley and Stainer.
As the cathedral’s patron saint is St Peter, I was slightly disappointed that Britten’s Hymn to St Peter hasn’t been included but Anthony Piccolo’s Jesus walking on the waves is a fascinating substitute. It’s described not as an anthem but a dramatic scena depicting Matthew’s Gospel account of Peter’s fear and faith during the storm in which Christ calmed the waters. Jonathan Dove’s Seek him that maketh the seven stars rounds off an excellent listen.
Another of Regent Records’ A Year at … series takes us to Lincoln Cathedral. As with the recording from Exeter, this is a collection of works reflecting seasons of the church year interspersed with pieces of local interest and origin. Who better at Lincoln than to start with William Byrd who was appointed organist and master of the choristers in 1563! His Vigilate that opens this CD takes care of the Advent offering, immediately followed by Ding dong, merrily on high in the increasingly popular arrangement by Mack Wilberg and Peter Stevens. Looking down the list of 17 pieces, there are wonderful choices from the 16th century up to the present day: S.S. Wesley, Parsons, Taverner, Tallis, Brahms and Finzi, with more contemporary pieces from Bob Chilcott, Judith Bingham and Mark Blatchly.
What mark out each of the A Year at … CDs are works that have begun life in the featured cathedral and become a part of its tradition. My dearest wish by Lincolnshire composer Patrick Hawes, commissioned by the cathedral in 2010, is a case in point. This pleasingly sonorous piece sets a text by the composer’s brother Canon Andrew Hawes who has served as a priest in the Lincoln diocese and as a prebendary at the cathedral. In turn the text is drawn from sayings by Bishop Edward King who was Bishop of Lincoln from 1885 until his death. Now that is a local brew!
As we work through the church year, it is clear that, if this collection is anything to go by, the choir at Lincoln – ably directed by Aric Prentice – is in good voice.
SORROW AND CONTEMPLATION
THE LAST JOURNEY: REFLECTIONS FOR THE TIME OF GRIEVING
Cathedral Singers of Chicago / Pamela Warrick-Smith (soprano) / Richard Proulx / John L. Bell / SPCK 978-0-281-08002-1 £14.99 Is this a CD of songs accompanied by a beautifully produced book or a book of readings, prayers and meditations accompanied by a hauntingly poignant recording? It is both: unusual in concept and format, but resulting in an item to be read, listened to and treasured. Songs to accompany the process of grieving have a long history, not least in the songs of lament in the Book of Psalms. In this new CD/book the songs begin and end with solidarity with Jesus in his grief – starting with scripture ‘… Jesus wept’ and ending with the spiritual ‘Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen’. In between, John Bell organizes the material to move from ‘grief, fear and abandonment’ through ‘consolation’, then ‘leave taking’ (a section that concludes with the Agnus Dei and ‘Lux perpetua’ from the Requiem) before reaching the ‘saints in heaven’.
The 17 musical items include original hymns by John Bell, biblical paraphrases, liturgical texts and spirituals. Many of the hymns have original tunes but there is also effective use of folk melodies including Iona boat song, Lark in the clear air and O waly waly. The Genevan Psalm 12 tune, otherwise known as Donne secours, has a dance feel in John Bell’s catchy treatment for ‘Go, silent friend’. The 16-voice choir is accompanied at various times by flute, oboe, cello, piano and organ. The songs collectively embrace grief and loss with courage and, ultimately, a sense of hope and trust in God.
IN SORROW’S FOOTSTEPS The Marian Consort / Rory McCleery * Delphian DCD34215
Settings of two Holy Week texts – namely the Stabat Mater and Psalm 51 (the Miserere) – seem a curious choice for a celebration. We’re told this CD is a celebration of the Marian Consort’s 10th anniversary and its 10th recording with Delphian. Founded and directed by Rory McCleery, the Consort is a mixed ensemble of up to 10 singers. They’ve made a name for themselves with appearances throughout the UK and Europe and on BBC Radio 3. The CD notes refer to ‘its engaging performances and imaginative programming; the group draws its members from the very best young singers on the early music scene today.’ Although the musical mood belies any celebration, this CD is a good example of both fine programming and singing. At first hearing, a setting of the Stabat Mater by Gabriel Jackson makes for a strident opening but it is beautifully sung and it should be: it was commissioned by the Consort. It is a heart-rending musical portrayal of Mary’s grief at the foot of the Cross. Four Renaissance works including three by Palestrina follow, including his take on the Stabat Mater. Allegri’s Psalm 51 is also included and, by contrast, James MacMillan’s more contemporary setting. It’s easy to hear how much the setting for the Sistine Chapel has influenced MacMillan in his work – the use of plainsong and fauxbourdon writing in particular.
Andrew Mellor, in his programme notes, is fascinated by many musical points of comparison between the old and new settings of the texts. This CD is a thoughtfully devised programme.
EVEN SUCH IS TIME
The Choir of Christ’s College, Cambridge / David Rowland Regent REGCD511
The choir of Christ’s College is also in contemplative mood for this collection of major choral writing from British 20th-century composers, namely Finzi, Leighton, Howells and Walton. Music has played an important role in the life of Christ’s College which spans 500 years. For the past 40 years there has been a mixed choir drawn predominantly from the college’s own students. Apart from concerts, recordings and an annual foreign tour, the choir sings two choral services a week in the college chapel. With six singers to a part under the direction of David Rowland they make a fine sound in this thoughtfully constructed programme.
It takes its title from an early work by Herbert Howells; Even such is time is a setting of a text by Sir Walter Raleigh supposedly written on the night before his execution. There are two large-scale pieces of thoughtful and sombre writing – Finzi’s great Lo, the full, final sacrifice and Kenneth Leighton’s Crucifixus pro nobis. Herbert Howells’s Take him earth for cherishing, written following the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, is another searching musical exploration of grief and loss. Walton is represented by his setting of the hymn Drop, drop slow tears, Where does the uttered music go and Set me as a seal. It is often said that composers’ finest writing is reserved for Lenten and Holy Week texts and there are plenty here! Yet Leighton’s Solus ad Victimam, which closes this collection, contains a glimmer of hope and triumph; the final line of Abelard’s text reads (in Helen Waddell’s translation), ‘Heavy with weeping may the three days pass to win the laughter of thine Easter Day.’
KING’S COLLEGE FAVOURITES
THE MUSIC OF KING’S: CHORAL FAVOURITES
The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, Stephen Cleobury * KGS0034 This CD was released earlier this year in time for the choir’s USA tour in the Spring. It opens with Monteverdi’s sprightly Cantate Domino – sung with an edgy Italianate feel. More baroque and renaissance fare follows with music by Scheidt and Palestrina and Lotti’s Crucifixus – the latter with a gentle organ backing. The press blurb describes this collection as a ‘celebration of choral music throughout the ages and around the world’. It is a splendid mix of familiar and the unfamiliar. Fauré’s Pie Jesu (sung by Joseph Hall with assured poise) and Mozart’s Ave verum corpus, among other favourites, give way to Ola Gjeilo’s Ubi caritas and Morton Lauridsen’s O magnum mysterium. The daily singing of psalmody is reflected here with beautifully unhurried performances of three favourites, namely Psalms 23, 130 and 121. Not a syllable is out of place. There are some unusual but pleasant pieces to close: Mo Li Hua (the Jasmine Flower Song), a traditional Chinese piece arranged by Stephen Cleobury, and the American folksong Shenandoah.
As well as the splendid music-making, mention must be made of the recording quality. The choir’s own label has gone from strength to strength and it’s evident that there is a true understanding by Benjamin Sheen and others of the nature of what must surely be one of the best recording studios in the world.
WORCESTER SPECTACULAR Christopher Allsop plays the Kenneth Tickell organ in Worcester Cathedral * Priory PRCD 1214
This collection of organ lollipops certainly has an arresting opening, namely Bach’s dramatic Toccata and Fugue in D minor played with bravura and panache. The fugue is fast but excitingly dramatic and energetic. Christopher Allsop was assistant director of music at Worcester Cathedral from 2004 until 2018 and will therefore be familiar with the Tickell instrument installed high up in the quire in 2008. If you go to Worcester, you cannot miss the fine casework. In the pieces that follow we’re certainly given a comprehensive tour of the organ’s varied tone colours. Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Prelude on the Welsh tune Rhosymedre and Pietro Yon’s Toccatina show off the gentler sonorities as well as some delightfully ‘twinkly’ stops. This CD is a comprehensive recital of short pieces ranging from local musician Easthope Martin and Percy Whitlock to Louis Lefébure-Wély and Percy Fletcher. Dubois’s Fiat Lux and Karg-Elert’s Marche Triomphale on Nun danket alle Gott certainly show off the gritty reeds on an instrument with entirely new pipework except for two historic ranks of pipes. The CD closes with a fine performance that popular Toccata by Widor, played at a good steady pace. Stuart Robinson
COMPOSERS AND ORGANISTS
SIR WILLIAM HENRY HARRIS: ORGANIST, CHOIR TRAINER AND COMPOSER
AND TREVOR JARVIS RSCM: 333pp.
P/B 978-0-85402-279-3 £27.00
‘They were the best choristers I ever had.’ This was an observation Sir William Harris (1883–1973) made to me shortly before his death – a reference to his years as organist of New College, Oxford. Roy Massey (then at Birmingham Cathedral) and I (then at New College) had gone to visit him in Petersfield – Roy to talk to him about St Augustine, Birmingham, where they had both been organist, and I to ask him about his New College days (1919–29). He was hard of hearing but generous with his time and fascinating to listen to. We left with inscribed copies of his latest (final?) choral works, fresh from OUP.
Harris’s 10 years at New College were but one chapter in a varied career beginning as assistant organist at Lichfield Cathedral, then organist of St Augustine’s, followed by New College, Christ Church Cathedral and St George’s Chapel, Windsor (1933–61). All the while he taught (mainly at the Royal College of Music, where Howells rated him highly), composed and conducted.
The authors of this richly illustrated biography have not only written up all the known facts of Harris’s life and career but have augmented these with innumerable comments from those who knew him, in addition giving fascinating background information about all the places where he worked. However, the value of this book is far greater than that: pages 93–320 form a catalogue of his works (some 250 of them), with facsimile music pages as illustrations. This is very well done; it adds great musicological value to the book. One error (p. iii): Petersfield is in Hampshire, not Sussex.
As with other Jarvis / Henderson books, it is excellently produced (though I lament the use of the Gill Sans font, with its lack of visual flow), featuring an attractive line drawing of Windsor Castle on the cover.
JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH:
A VERY BRIEF HISTORY Andrew Gant
H/B 978-0-281-07957-5 £12.99; P/B 978-0-281-07958-2 £7.99
This ‘very brief history’ is published at a very reasonable price and tells a story that is valuable for any reader singing, playing or listening to Bach’s music. There are two sections, firstly ‘The History (What do we know?)’ since placing Bach in his social, political and religious background is such a help to understanding the music. Then ‘The Legacy (Why does it matter?)’ explores why he is still important today. It is a history of Bach’s music from its composition through its decline in popularity and subsequent revivals and interpretations. The first chapter describes the world into which Bach was born, starting ‘Thuringia is a pleasant region of wooded hills, stern castles, cobbled streets and tall church towers soaring over wide market squares in handsome medieval towns. Luther was born here – he and Bach attended the same school in Eisenach two hundred years apart …’. And so it continues, all told with a light touch. There is also technical discussion and music examples (especially in a chapter headed ‘The learned musician: Some technical aspects’), a good index and a seven-page chronology from 1685 (Bach’s birth) to 1955 (first volume of the Neue Bach-Ausgabe). Readers of David Stancliffe’s article ‘Bach and Architecture’ last year (CMQ, March 2018) will find here a similar concern to understand what Bach wrote and why he wrote as he did. The 10 judiciously chosen, full-colour illustrations are all relevant to what is discussed in the text. It is a highly readable fusion of scholarship and storytelling.
RECOLLECTIONS OF A
ST ALBANS ABBEY CHORISTER TREVOR JARVIS Available from the author at RSCM, 19 The Close, Salisbury SP1 2EB Cheques for £8.00 should be payable to ‘Trevor Jarvis’
The listing of this title under the heading ‘Composers and Organists’ results from so much of the book being about St Albans after a ‘new broom’ arrived in the form of Peter Hurford, with descriptions of Hurford’s rehearsing, conducting and playing – complete with biography and list of his published choral works. It is fascinating to read of the impression made on Trevor Jarvis, a chorister at St Albans, looking back 60 years later at Hurford’s work there. Discipline was tightened, repertoire broadened and standards raised. Jarvis remembers his initial encounter with ‘someone in a hurry – like a whirlwind – with a surfeit of nervous energy’.
In addition we have a valuable reminiscence of Hurford’s predecessor, Peter Burton, who died in post at the age of 41 in an accident while swimming, and more generally a description of life as a cathedral or abbey chorister in the late 1950s, ranging from choir camps to royal visits, along with documentation of the daily routine of the choir. One does not need to be a present or former chorister to enjoy reading this well-researched evocation of what is indeed a special world. Julian Elloway
CHORAL AND VOCAL SIGHT SINGING AND KEYBOARD HARMONY
Singer edition: 56pp.
P/B 20173UK £9.95
Pianist edition: 84pp.
P/B 20172UK £12.95
These books provide carefully graded sight singing practice at the same time as teaching pianists keyboard harmony as they accompany the exercises from chord symbols. The books are well-structured and systematic in the way new keys and chords are gradually introduced. Each stage includes exercises for the singers intended to be practised as well as sight read, along with accompanied songs. I’m not sure in what way it is for ‘choral’ sight reading more than any other sight singing book – the vocal line throughout is a single line and in the treble clef.
The ‘pianist edition’ encourages pianists to experiment with varied examples of realizations of chords and different styles of accompaniment. It also sensibly explains the ways chords are described and makes easy sense of what can be otherwise be confusing. It includes chord examples and practice routines, and at the back are charts with every chord you are likely to come across in every key. One chord per bar is used at first with more frequent changes in later chapters. Cross-references in the piano book to the relevant page number in the ‘singer edition’ would have made the pianist’s task easier when working with singers.
One surprise is to come across Jerusalem notated with a minim beat as if in 3/2 but given a 6/4 time signature. This is even explained: ‘6/4 is six crotchets in a bar (in 3 groups of 2)’. Er, no! But otherwise this is a sound course that will encourage pianists and choir directors to develop their keyboard harmony skills while working on sight singing.
THINKING ABOUT MUSIC
MUSIC AS AN ART
ROGER SCRUTON Bloomsbury: 261pp.
H/B 978-1-4729-5571-5 £25.00
Devotees of Sir Roger Scruton will enjoy this book. It predictably attacks Boulez, Adorno, Schoenberg and Stockhausen among others along with Marxism, controversial opera productions, pop and rock music, even a passing jibe at Islamists (who wish to replace Western civilization, including classical music, with barbarism).
It refers to ‘our generation’ or ‘my generation’ (Scruton was born in 1944) and is uneasy with much of the culture of succeeding generations. David Matthews (born 1943) is the only living composer with a chapter to himself. So far, so predictable – the author is renowned as a conservative polemicist. What is disappointing is the lack of a structured argument to take us through the book from ‘When is a Tune?’ to ‘The Culture of Pop’. No less than 8 of the 17 chapters are adapted from previous publications or lectures and the individual parts are not welded into a bigger whole. Constant reference to the index will help the reader to jump to and fro as necessary, so when, for example, we read praise of George Rochberg (1918–2005) and his quartet variations on Pachelbel’s Canon, surprisingly at the culmination of Chapter 16 ‘The Music of the Future’, a memory of having encountered that name leads us via the index to the relevant pages in Chapter 5.
Music as an art for use in worship makes occasional appearances, mostly in the first chapter. We read that ‘Hymns Ancient and Modern has more or less disappeared from our churches; the Anglican Hymn Book … is itself being replaced by Mission Praise which shows a marked preference for the happy-clappy over the solemn and patriotic’; the ‘old tunes’ have been replaced by ‘kitsch’. A recurrent theme throughout the book is the distinction between kitsch or cliché and expressive sentiment. Readers who agree will hardly need this book to reinforce them in their views. Those who disagree will find much to argue with in these provocative but disorganized chapters.
HAUNTED BY CHRIST: MODERN WRITERS AND
THE STRUGGLE FOR FAITH RICHARD HARRIES SPCK: 233pp.
H/B 978-0-281-07933-9 £19.99; P/B 978-0-281-07934-6 £9.99
Much of Haunted by Christ is also based on previous publications or lectures, but there is a structured continuum from the opening discussion of Dostoevsky’s ‘Furnace of Doubt’ to Marilynne Robinson’s affirmation of a Christian life ‘taking seriously the biblical revelation of a wise and loving God’. Harries considers the work of 20 writers within 15 chapters. Emily Dickinson, Gerald Manly Hopkins, Auden, Eliot, Muir and Mackay Brown are among the poets discussed who themselves referred to music and singing or wrote words that acted as stimuli for composers. Although not a book specifically about music, these reflections about how poets have wrestled with their Christian faith will resonate with many musicians. Julian Elloway
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