A YEAR AT SAINT PATRICK’S
Choir of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin / David Leigh (organ) / Stuart Nicholson · Regent REGCD504
A YEAR AT BRISTOL
Choir of Bristol Cathedral / Paul Walton (organ) / Mark Lee · Regent REGCD514
The format is now familiar, with one or more anthems for the major parts of the church year from Advent through to Christ the King – except that St Patrick’s Cathedral ends by celebrating the Birth of Jonathan Swift (Dean of the Cathedral and marked by Philip Moore’s All wisdom cometh from the Lord), and earlier allows itself a Patronal Festival with Stanford’s setting of ‘I bind unto myself today’. St Patrick’s programme is the more popular of the two, with inventive arrangements by Stuart Nicholson of ‘We three kings’ and Lord of the Dance – and for Christmas, William Mathias’s A babe is born with its dancing organ part nimbly played by David Leigh
Bristol’s Christmas choice, by contrast, is Sally Beamish’s lovely In the stillness and James Whitbourn’s Hodie, preceded (for Advent) by Byrd’s Vigilate and James MacMillan’s O radiant dawn – sterner stuff, but how well sung! There are, in their expected places, Leighton’s Drop, drop slow tears (a particularly fine performance), Bruckner’s Christus factus est, Casals’s O vos omnes and Widor’s Surrexit a mortuis – and then, less expectedly, for All Saints, Vaughan Williams’s Valiant-for-truth. David Bednall’s O clap your hands, allocated to Christ the King, was written just before the recording. The mixed choir (12 boys and 12 girls plus choral scholars and lay clerks) sing the new pieces with confident assurance. Both discs, with their quite different approaches to the church year, are well recommended.
GREAT HYMNS FROM LIVERPOOL
Choir of Liverpool Cathedral / Ian Tracey (organ) / David Poulter · Priory PRCD 1180
Great hymns? – well certainly 25 well-known and much-loved ones. We hear them in all sorts of guises with descants, reharmonizations and other arrangements for choir and organ. ‘Now the green blade riseth’ appears in Simon’s Lindley’s arrangement that most of us probably think of as an Easter anthem. The choir (boys, girls, men – 48 voices in total) and the huge Willis III organ, enthusiastically played by Ian Tracey, fill the huge cathedral space, yet are heard on this disc with clarity and precision: a tribute to David Poulter’s training and direction and to Priory’s recording.
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: MASS IN G MINOR
Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge / Joseph Wicks (organ) / Andrew Nethsingha · Signum SIGCD541
Conceived as a disc of music by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958) and recorded to mark the centenary of the 1918 Armistice, most of the works here were written in the years immediately after the First World War. At this time, despite his own atheism, the composer repeatedly turned to Christian texts, doubtless influenced by his wartime experience and, in Ursula Vaughan Williams’s words, his ‘vivid experience of how men died’. The performance of the 1922 Mass is perhaps the finest I have heard, fluid and intense, letting the music speak all the more powerfully when understated. The singing is balanced and controlled, but always sounding natural and flexible. The remaining eight pieces on the CD are as good, including the Te Deum in G, O vos omnes, O taste and see, Prayer to the Father of Heaven and Lord, thou hast been our refuge. For lovers of Vaughan Williams’s music, this is essential listening.
MUSIC FOR THE QUEEN OF HEAVEN
Contemporary Marian Motets · The Marian Consort / Rory McCleery · Delphian DCD34190
The Marian Consort is primarily an early music vocal ensemble, but admirably it also works with contemporary composers, some results of which are collected on this impressive disc. Herbert Howells, Andrzej Panufnik, Stephen Dodgson and Lennox Berkeley represent the earlier 20th century, but for the rest we are dealing with living composers starting with Gabriel Jackson (Salve Regina) and Judith Weir (Ave Regina caelorum) and concluding with James MacMillan (Ave maris stella). Cecilia McDowall, Matthew Martin, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Hilary Campbell and Roxanna Panufnik all find a place, in several cases with pieces commissioned by the ensemble. It is fascinating to hear how the ancient words of the Marian hymns and antiphons are responded to with contemporary sensibilities. Particularly striking are the strong, punchy response to the Magnificat from Roxanna Panufnik in her St Pancras Service and the exhilarating and virtuosic response of Cheryl Frances-Hoad in Gaude et laetare. Most of the pieces are written for the core six voices of the Marian Consort, but the programme uses between three and ten singers as appropriate, performing with outstanding skill and artistry.
FRANCIS POTT ORGAN WORKS
Christian Wilson plays the organ of the Chapel of St Augustine, Tonbridge · Acis APL67065
There is much to enjoy here in the music, its performance, the organ and the recording. The big piece is La Chiesa del Sole of 2016, written for Thomas Trotter at the inauguration of Manchester Cathedral’s Kenneth Tickell organ, and inscribed ‘To the honoured, happy memory of John Scott’. Over its 23 minutes a fantasia-like opening leads to a fugue that eventually becomes a toccata but throughout with much recapitulation and transformation of earlier material, and a chorale-like passage that reappears triumphantly near the end. It is a journey through a richly evolving landscape, yet which logically holds together as one glances forward and back.
More likely to find liturgical use are Three Hymn Tune Fantasias of 2013: ‘Prelude and Fugue on Iste Confessor’ (lasting over 15 minutes) and the shorter, ‘Improvisation on Slane’ and ‘Toccata on King’s Lynn’. The disk opens with a Toccata (with a substantial introduction), and two Mosaici di Ravenna, the second of which is also a toccata. Christian Wilson plays with a virtuosity that makes light of the considerable technical demands. The large organ has a clean yet powerful sound, well captured in this recording.
MESSIAEN: LA NATIVITÉ DU SEIGNEUR
Le Banquet Céleste · Colin Walsh plays the organ of Lincoln Cathedral · Priory PRCD 1194
Recorded live at a public concert four days before Christmas in 2014, this is an astonishing performance that somehow manages to make the 1898 Father Willis organ at Lincoln sound appropriate for Messiaen’s youthful 1935 masterpiece. The gamut of emotion in the nine meditations on the Birth of the Lord is all captured, from the wonder and adoration of ‘La Vièrge et L’Enfant’ (the Virgin and Child) and ‘Les Bergers’ (the Shepherds), through the power of ‘Le Verbe’ (the Word) to the overwhelming ecstasy of ‘Dieu parmi nous’ (God among us). La nativité du Seigneur is preceded by what must be the piece by Messiaen most played by parish organists Sunday by Sunday, Le banquet céleste.
Scott Farrell plays the organ of Rochester Cathedral · Regent REGCD507
The big piece here is Joseph Jongen’s Sonata Eroïca that joins César Franck’s Pièce héroïque in suggesting the title of this album. Also receiving a heroic performance is Howells’s C sharp minor Rhapsody, Op.17 No.3. The recording certainly stretches the dynamic range in those, and in ‘Mars, the bringer of war’ (from Holst’s The Planets). There is quieter music in the form of an arrangement of J.S. Bach’s Komm, süsser Tod, Vierne’s ‘Épitaphe’ from 24 pièces en style libre and Mendelssohn’s third Sonata. But it is above all in the truly heroic works that Scott Farrell’s mastery of organ and acoustic provide assured and impressive results – and not least in a well-judged performance of William Harris’s arrangement of Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ from Enigma Variations.
SINGING THROUGHOUT LIFE
SO YOU WANT TO SING FOR A LIFETIME: A Guide for Performers
Rowman & Littlefield: 219pp. P/B 978-1-5381-0400-2 £24.95
The National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) has produced a series of guides ‘So you want to sing …’ where the final word might be ‘Barbershop’ or ‘Jazz’ or ‘Gospel’ or indeed ‘Sacred Music’ – a total of 12 to date, plus this one that is somewhat different. Rather than any one style, it looks at vocal health over the lifetime of a singer – something that concerned CMQ only last March with articles on ‘Vocal health for young singers’ and ‘Vocal health and the ageing voice’.
The author, Brenda Smith, is based at the University of Florida, and is joined by specialist contributors Scott McCoy on voice production, Wendy LeBorgne on vocal health for the lifetime of a singer, and Robert Sataloff and two other researchers on the effects of age on the voice. The writers are all on top of their subjects and the book reflects the latest research, but it is written in an accessible and easy-to-follow style, with clear questions and answers. The book can easily be read by singers unaccustomed to technical writing about the voice, as well as by those responsible for training or directing them. There is also a very full glossary of words and terms found not only in this book but in other writings about voice production.
Although NATS is active throughout the world, it is a pity that the editors have left the book so US-centric – even the brief history of choral singing concerns just ‘the major traditions in American choral singing’. But singing is singing, and there is much vocal wisdom offered here that will benefit readers everywhere. As church choirs seem increasingly to polarize between children and much older adults, this approach to singing as a lifelong skill is all the more useful.