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.
PSALMODY, with THE PARLEY
OF INSTRUMENTS/PETER HOLMAN.
HYPERION CDA 66924/67020.
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.