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WHILE SHEPHERDS WATCHED; Christmas Music from English Parish Churches and Chapels 1740-1830.
VITAL SPARK OF HEAVENLY flame; Music of Death and Resurrection from English Parish Churches and Chapels 1760-1840.


The singing of metrical psalms was a common feature in English churches and Nonconformist chapels in the century prior to Victoria's ascent to the throne and a vigorous, varied and rich tradition it was, predominantly Anglican but by no means entirely so. It so explored in these two excellently recorded and presented discs in Scholarly, musically readings. ("Psalmody is an experienced chorus of about 14v singers, used flexibly according to the requirements of the music). The tradition was largely provincial and at first often rural; some of the composers and arrangers here were not professionally trained musicians. We encounter teacher Caleb Ashworth of Daventry, cordwainer Thomas Clark of Canterbury (composer of Cranbrook now better known as Ilkla Moor) , stocking makers William Matthews of Nottingham and William Gardiner of Leicester, tailor Thomas Jarman of Clipstone (Northants), coroner John Foster of High Green, near Sheffield (whose setting of While Shepherds Watched has startling Haydresque ritorelli, weaver Edwards \\hsrwood of Darwen, clergyman John Paxell of Birmingham, bookseller Richard Taylor of Chester, Stephen Jarvis of Dartmouth, exciseman Joseph Key of Nuneaton and, very late in the period, shoemaker John Fawcett of Bolton, representated here by two Cantata-like anthems, one for funerals, the other for Easter using words familiar from Handel's Messiah. Many of these psalms or anthems adapted music by Handel, especially, Haydn and others and several showed a keen awareness of British musical tradition stretching back to restoration verse anthems and before. Several are "figuring tunes" with lively, if unsophisticated, contrapuntal episodes. The "amateur" psalm composers here rub shoulders with better known professionals like Samuel Arnold, represented her by a sophisticated setting of Hark the Herald, Samuel Wesley, whose song Might I in Thy Sight Appear is expressive indeed and Dr. Miller of Doncaster. But known or unknown, musically educated or not, all these figure contributed mightily to British music-makers and even the "amateurs" developed greater sophistication as the 19 Century progressed. With the growth of the Oxford Movement and changing fashions, metrical psalmody declined, although the tradition was absorbed in part by the mid-Victorian choral society. For contrast the Christmas disc includes two lovely instrumental items, the Pastorale from Concerto Grosso by Peter Hellendaal (a nice change from Corelli and Manfredini) and Samuel Wesley's ingenious Rondo for piano solo on God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. No-one interested in the development of British music can afford to ignore these discs. I have derived much enlightenment and fascination from them.


Philip Scowcroft


Philip Scowcroft

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