This disc forms a fitting tenth anniversary celebration of the establishment of the girl choristers at Salisbury Cathedral. The music includes several premiere recordings and comprises an enjoyable cross section of the lighter side of the choir's repertoire together with a couple of weightier items by Kenneth Leighton and David Halls, the organist and Assistant Director of Music at the Cathedral.
I recall very clearly encountering Leighton's An Easter Sequence during my teenage years. It is entirely typical of his substantial output of sacred choral music and listening to this recording I was struck, as I had been twenty years ago, by the honest sincerity of his inspiration. The touching beauty of the Communion and the setting of Psalm 23 (preceded by a hauntingly austere organ solo, archetypal Leighton) contrasts so naturally with the gentle exaltation of the Offertory and the sheer joy (echoes of early Messiaen here perhaps) of the final Sortie. The obligato trumpet part is here ably despatched by Martin Ings and the choir gives a heart warmingly enjoyable performance.
Cast in five brief sections, the Mass by David Halls here receives its world premiere. Conceived for the Salisbury choir with whom he is so closely associated, it is a well written work, albeit imbued with a proliferation of influences, amongst them Leighton, John Tavener and very clearly in the Benedictus, William Mathias. Nevertheless it has considerable appeal, the ethereal central section of the Gloria, being particularly effective.
Of the remaining pieces the two motets by Pierre Villette make for pleasant listening although I found them to be a little academic in their inspiration. The works by Wilby, Berkeley and Jonathan Dove on the other hand all have something to offer. Anyone who knows Dove for his work in the operatic field will find Into Thy Hands interesting listening, demonstrating a very different side of his musical nature. Setting two prayers by St. Edmund it is a deeply felt meditation of moving beauty. Howard Goodall is another name that will be best known to listeners for his work in television (remember the title music from Blackadder?), indeed the theme from "The Vicar of Dibley" is represented here, transformed into an attractive setting of The Lord is my Shepherd. The Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis from his Salisbury Canticles are utterly delightful, having a very direct melodic appeal in much the same vein as John Rutter.
The rich yet not over resonant acoustic of Salisbury Cathedral gives the recording a natural ambience and with the exception of a few minor insecurities the choir sing with warmth and commitment throughout. All in all a most enjoyable release.