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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


An Evening Hymn
Music for solo treble
J.F. Lallouette (1651-1728) O Mysterium ineffabile
Pelham Humfrey (1647-1674) A Hymne to God the Father
Henry Purcell (1659-1695) An Evening Hymn
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) Geistliches Lied
C.V. Stanford (1852-1924) A Song of Peace - No.1 of Four Biblical Songs Op.113; Magnificat in G
Peter Hurford (b.1930) Litany to the Holy Spirit
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) The Call - No.4 of Five Mystical songs
Lili Boulanger (1893-1918) Pie Jesu
Maurice DuruflÉ (1902-1986)Pie Jesu - from Requiem Op.9
Richard Rodney Bennett (b.1936) The Aviary
Peter Warlock (1894-1930) Balulalow; The First Mercy; The Birds
John Ireland (1879-1962) The Holy Boy
W. Denis Browne (1888-1915) Epitaph on Salathiel Pavy
Arnold Bax (1883-1953) A Christmas Carol
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) The Plough Boy; O waly waly; Oliver Cromwell
George Gershwin (1898-1937) Love Walked in
Oliver Lepage-Dean, Treble
The Choir of St John's College Cambridge
Christopher Witton, Organ
Christopher Robinson, Director and Piano.
Recorded: St John's College Cambridge February 2002 (Tracks 1-10) ; University Music School Cambridge January 2002 (Tracks 11-25)
NAXOS 8.557129 [63.34]

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Three things to say straight away about this CD. Benefits first and concerns to follow. There is absolutely no way that I can fault the exquisite singing of Oliver Lepage-Dean in all these hymns, songs and numbers. Secondly the repertoire is excellent. A varied selection of pieces by French and English composers (plus that honorary Englishman Felix Mendelssohn!) It covers a wide chronological range. From Pelham Humfrey to Peter Hurford (PH and PH!). It explores corners of the repertoire which most other labels would leave untouched. More about individual pieces later.

And thirdly, the down side, it is not a recording to listen to at one sitting. The purity and superb diction of the soloist tends to pall. Unbelievably there is a tendency for five centuries of miniature masterpieces to start to merge into one long chant. This music ought to be approached as we eat an elephant - one piece at a time. I know that it means jumping up and down to the CD player or a lot of pressing of the 'remote' but I promise you it is worth it. It is only fair to the solo treble that we give our undivided attention to his musicality.

This being said, however, the producer has done a great job in balancing solo pieces, those with choral accompaniment and the use of piano and organ.

Naxos has provided a complete set of texts. This is useful because not all the works are based on 'well known' ecclesiastical settings. We have verses by George Herbert, John Clare, Robert Herrick, Hilaire Belloc and Ira Gershwin.

Perhaps the easiest way to review twenty-five songs is for me to offer my highlights. Highlights can be for different reasons. For example, it can be the delicious Magnificat in G by Stanford, with its filigree organ accompaniment. Or it can be a setting by the forgotten composer W. Denis Browne. Here is one of the tragedies of the Great War. He was killed on active service in Turkey. I have only heard four works from his pen. These are songs on the fine Hyperion recital, War's Embers. The present number exhibits considerable promise and tantalises us.

Of course the 'gem' on this CD is George Gershwin's arrangement of his brother’s lyrics - Love walked in. Quite obviously this is and deserves to be an encore piece!

The most famous or is it notorious Pie Jesu is from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Requiem and sung by Sarah Brightman and Paul Miles-Kingston. On this CD we have what is definitely a more profound example of this liturgical text - that of Maurice Duruflé. Perhaps his Requiem is one of the most reflective and moving choral works to come from the pen of a Frenchman in the 20th Century. I only regret that this 'perfect' composer wrote such a small catalogue of works. Yet everything he did compose is 'just right' in every detail.

Perhaps it was not a good idea to put Lili Boulanger's Pie Jesus next to Duruflé's? Yet it bears little resemblance to him. Gorgeous in its own way, it does not move me in the same way as Duruflé's does.

I love the Richard Rodney Bennett. He has chosen to set ornithological words by Clare, Tennyson, Shelley and Coleridge. Bennett is well known for his ability to compose in a variety of styles - from jazz to film music. However, these songs are fairly and squarely in the tradition of English Lieder. They deserve to be well known and perhaps taken up by one of the senior proponents of this genre.

Most pianists have hacked through John Ireland's Holy Boy (1938) . However it is nice to hear this 'tune' being used to the words of Herbert S. Brown. However do not forget the piano piece came some 23 years previously!

Bax's Christmas Carol - There is no Rose - may not count as one of his greatest works. Yet it has its place in the canon and has all the characteristics of the 'English' school. The form of this piece is almost symphonic - being constructed in an 'arch' with a great climax and quiet beginning and ending. However I am more moved by Howells' setting of these words.

Benjamin Britten, that great champion of music for children, is well represented here by three settings of folk songs. They are well sung and have all the 'sophistication within simplicity' that characterise so many English folksongs.

There are pleasant works by Lallouette, Humfrey and Purcell that would grace wherever 'choirs and places sing.'

Felix Mendelssohn's contribution is especially beautiful. However my German is not sufficient to be able to translate either the title of the text. Naxos does not help here. It has a fine choral accompaniment too. Perfect! How glad I am that they steered clear of those Dove's Wings!

Carols by Peter Warlock, a Litany by Peter Hurford and an excerpt from Five Mystical Songs by Vaughan Williams complete this varied and well-thought out programme. Hurford is influenced by Bach in his organ works in general and this choral setting in particular. The Warlock settings are accompanied by the piano and form an attractive trio of songs. The most famous of course is Balulalow - a lullaby set to words penned by Martin Luther. The Call is perhaps the emotional heart of the Five Mystical Songs. These words by George Herbert never fail to move me when I hear them.

As usual with Naxos it is impossible to fault the sound quality and the presentation. The quality of performance is excellent and the repertoire well chosen. A first-rate CD for those who enjoy this particular vocal style.

I must confess that I am not an enthusiast of 'solo treble' - being perhaps put off by remembrance of hits by Aled Jones. However in small doses it is inspiring, attractive and enjoyable. A really nice CD.


John France



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