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www.priory.org.uk

Herbert BREWER (1865-1928)
Choral Music
Let the People Praise Thee (1921)
As the Hart Pants (1917)
Blessing, Glory, Wisdom and Thanks (1909)
Magnificat in B flat (1894)
Nunc Dimittis in B flat (1894)
O Death, where is thy Sting
God is our Hope and Strength (1917)
Prevent us, O Lord (1900)
Magnificat in C (1895)
Nunc Dimittis in C (1895)
O Lord God
A Solemn Prayer (1904)
God Within (1928)
Bow down thine ear, O Lord (1916)
Magnificat in D (1927)
Nunc Dimittis in D (1927)
Laudate with Joseph Nolan (organ)/ directed by Howard Ionascu
Recorded St John's Church, Holland Road April 2002
PRIORY PRCD 797 [76.58]

Brewer was organist at Gloucester Cathedral for over thirty years, from 1896 until his rather sudden death in 1928. He was a friend of Elgar's and his own works do show, later on, a distinct Elgarian influence. Brewer spent almost his entire life in Gloucester and, once established, he composed works for the Three Choirs Festival, directing all those held in his native city, encouraged contemporary works and was also active as an orchestral conductor.

His own compositions presented here are attractive, melodic, frequently striking but also occasionally rather four square. They range from the early Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in D of 1894 to the much later setting of it in 1927 and this later work is by far the more imaginative, showing the decisive influence of Elgar on Brewer's writing. Let the People Praise Thee is a slight setting dating from just after the end of the First World War but it does contain a most sensitive middle section, and a degree of elasticity that compels attention. As the Hart Pants was written in 1917 and, though short, is of exceptional delicacy. It shares something of the withdrawn War spirit of the explicitly melancholy 1916 setting of Bow down thine ear, O Lord. Brewer can be colourful and exultant as well - Blessing, Glory, Wisdom and Thanks is suitably bold with declamatory unison chordal flourishes supported by deft organ writing and some contrastive unaccompanied passages to lighten texture. Brewer oscillates between jaunty insouciance and a thinning down of voices in O Death, where is they Sting. There are few occasions where things sound awkward or ungrateful to sing but there are places in God is our Hope and Strength where this is the case but a setting such as Prevent us, O Lord, written in the same year as Gerontius, reveals the graceful delicacy Brewer could cultivate and that existed alongside and within his more energetic public persona. The Magnificat in C (1895) is a bold and big work with important roles for solo sopranos and, indeed, at one point the choir divides into seven parts.

Not everything is up to this level - O Lord God is plain dull - but much is energetic and sprightly. He cultivates an unusually antique air in the homophony of A Solemn Prayer and there is subtle layering in the blisteringly Elgarian organ introduction of God within (1928). We finish with the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in D (1927) where Brewer takes these affiliations to ever more nobilmente heights (he'd even written that word in the score of God within) and where his declamation and also his sensitivity are laudable.

Laudate are generally polished exponents. I think that sometimes there is a lack of blend in the men that occasionally obtrudes (it's most noticeable in Blessing, Glory, Wisdom and Thanks). The Priory team have coped excellently with the acoustic of St John's Church, Holland Road and John Bawden's notes are admirably cogent and quite clear-eyed not starry-eyed about Brewer's place in the scheme of things. Attractive if slight is probably a harsh verdict but I'd put the accent on attractive.

Jonathan Woolf



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