Heavenly Harmonies - Three Trebles from Blackburn
Cathedral Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643) Currite populi [03:14] Maledetto sia l'aspetto [01:18] Alessandro GRANDI (c1577-1630) O quam tu pulchra es [03:05] Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643-1704) Panis angelicus (H 243) [01:25] Thomas TOMKINS (1572-1656) A Fantasy [03:03] George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Rodelinda (HWV 19): Art thou troubled (after Dove
Semele (HWV 58): Where'er you walk [04:26]
Messiah (HWV 56) He shall feed his flock [04:50]; How
beautiful are the feet [02:15] Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Magnificat in D (BWV 243): Et exultavit [02:47] Gottfried Heinrich STÖLZEL (?) (1690-1749) Bist du bei mir [02:44] Johann Sebastian BACH Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd (BWV
208): Schafe können sicher weiden [04:19] Henry PURCELL (1659-1695) Voluntary in G (Z 720) [02:45] Evening Hymn (Z 193) [03:48] Joseph CORFE (1740-1820) My misdeeds prevail against me [02:59] Maurice GREENE (1696-1755)
Arise!, Shine, O Zion, anthem: The Gentiles shall come
to Thy light [01:10] Matthew LOCKE (c1621-1677) O Domine Jesu Christe/ [01:42] Anon. Sweet was the song (Egerton-ms) [01:35] James NARES (1715-1783) Rejoice in the Lord o ye righteous [04:28] Peter CORNET (c1560-c1626) Fantasia [02:21] Maurice GREENE
Lord, let me know mine end, anthem: For man walketh
in a vain shadow/ [01:14] Joseph CORFE I will magnify thee, O Lord [02:30] Thomas Augustine ARNE (1710-1778) Where the bee sucks [02:32] William CROFT (1678-1727) Voluntary in d minor [01:56] Pelham HUMFREY (1647-1674) A Hymn to God the Father [02:29] Michael ARNE (1740/41-1786) Care flies from the lad that is merry [01:22] Richard DERING (c1580-1630) Gaudent in coelis [01:44]
James Holding, Thomas Croxson (trebles), Richard Tanner,
rec. March, April 2002; August 2004, Blackburn Cathedral, UK. DDD LAMMAS
I must confess that I find it difficult to review a disc
like this. On the one hand I am a great admirer of the boy's
and also of the long and rich tradition of boys singing in
church in Britain. On the other hand, as much as I understand
the desire to document the beauty of a particular voice on
record I believe that the music always should come first.
Therefore, when a record company wants to demonstrate the
skills of any singer or player he or she should sing or play
the repertoire which is most suitable both to the voice or
instrument and the specific skills of the artist. And this
is where I have strong reservations about recital discs like
this. To run ahead of my final verdict on this disc I have
to say that a part of the repertoire on the programme is
either not suitable to be sung by boys or fails to receive
the performance it requires.
In my view the people who have put together the programme deserve
loud applause for mostly avoiding the obvious. There are
many recordings with British trebles, and most of them contain
the same kind of pieces. 'Panis angelicus' by César Franck,
or 'Pie Jesu' from Fauré's Requiem have been recorded numerous
times by trebles all over the world, and in particular in
Britain. Not that this disc completely shuns the traditional
'treble repertoire': 'Where'er you walk' from Handel's oratorio
Semele or 'Art thou troubled' from his opera Rodelinda are
among trebles' favourites. But the choice of music from the
17th and 18th centuries deserves praise. At the same time
the actual choice of compositions is sometimes a little unlucky.
The programme notes in the booklet make a false start by
CD collection brings together some of the finest music of
the 17th and 18th centuries for trebles, composed not just
in England, but also in Italy, France and Germany." But
a number of pieces on this disc were definitely not composed
for trebles. First of all, the programme contains some secular
music, which was usually not meant to be sung by boys. Not
that secular music is completely out of reach for boys' voices:
Shakespeare's plays were performed by male actors only, and
the songs they contain were certainly sung by boys. These
are often very close to the so-called consort-songs, and
from that perspective it is reasonable to assume some of
these can be sung by boys, as a couple of fine recordings
by Connor Burrowes demonstrate. But Monteverdi's madrigal
'Maledetto sia l'aspetto' is most definitely not written
for a boy's voice. Both the text and the character of the
music seem hardly appropriate for a boy to sing. 'Schafe
können sicher weiden' is from Bach's secular cantata BWV
208, and also not written for a boy's voice. The same is
true for the arias by Handel I already mentioned.
But not all sacred music is written for boys. It is very likely the
soprano parts in Italian sacred music of the 17th century
was sung by adult male singers, in particular castratos.
And the music by Monteverdi and Grandi recorded here strongly
points into the direction of such performances: although
the text is sacred, these monodies are every inch theatrical,
just like the secular music of the time, including the opera.
Basically all Italian music, sacred or secular, is theatrical
and not very suitable to boy's voices. The actual performances
of the Italian pieces support that view, as they belong to
the least satisfying items of this disc. Rhythmically they
are under par, and there is a lack of ornamentation as well
as dynamic contrasts, which are absolutely essential in Italian
The arias by Handel come off better, but even these require more than
the boys can offer. There is some ornamentation here, but
it mostly sounds artificial. Bach is another case where the
young singers are not able to provide what the music needs.
What is required here is good articulation, based on a thorough
knowledge of the German language, but that is lacking. It
is no coincidence that the second half of the programme,
which consists of compositions by English composers, is the
most satisfying part of this disc. Nor is it a coincidence
that those pieces which most strongly reflect the influence
of the Italian style are the weakest, like Purcell's 'Evening
Hymn' and Pelham Humfrey's 'Hymn to God the Father'. The
performance of the latter piece, although less than ideal,
can't hide the fact that Humfrey was a great composer, which
makes it hard to understand why he is still largely neglected.
Having said all this I hasten to assure the reader that these
three trebles are very fine singers, whose voices have a
of their own. They’re also technically pretty good. Blackburn
Cathedral should be proud of them, and one can only congratulate
the director of music and all people involved for having
such great talents at hand and thank them for giving young
people the opportunity to develop their musical skills. It
is just unfortunate that this disc doesn't always present
the three boys in the best possible light. Some of the music
they have to sing is unsuitable for any treble or is technically
too demanding for these particular trebles.
The programme is interspersed with organ pieces, which are played
well, but suffer from the equal temperament of the instrument
used. Modern tuning largely hides the harmonic boldness of
some of the pieces.
The booklet contains programme notes in which only some of the items
are mentioned. It also contains the lyrics, with translation
if necessary, but the anonymous 'Sweet was the song' is absent.
The tracklist should have given more precise information:
there are no catalogue numbers nor the dates of the composers.
The pieces by Greene are extracts from anthems, but their
titles are not given. I have added this information as far
as I could track it down on the internet.
Those who have a special interest in the boy's voice should be interested
in this disc. It is nice that it also contains some pieces
which are hardly known, like those by Joseph Corfe. Those
who look for truly convincing interpretations of the repertoire
on this disc, in particular that in the first half, will
be disappointed and have to look elsewhere.
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