> STANFORD Decca British Music Collevtion [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)

The Bluebird
Beata Quorum Via
Songs of the Sea
Te Deum Laudamus in B Flat
Magnificat in B Flat
Nunc Dimittis in B Flat
Magnificat in G
Nunc Dimittis in G
Psalm 96 – O Sing unto the Lord a New Song
Psalm 150 – O Praise God in His Holiness
Agnus Dei
The Fairy Lough
A Soft Day

Choir of New College Oxford/Edward Higginbottom (items 1 and 2)
Thomas Allen, baritone with LPO conducted by Roger Norrington (item 3)
Timothy Barber, treble solo, Donald Sweeney, bas solo, Timothy Byram-Wigfield, organ, Choir of Winchester Cathedral, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Hill (items 4-6)
Choir of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge/Boris Ord (items 7 and 8)
Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge/George Guest (item 9 and 10)
Royal School of Church Music Massed Choirs/Lionel Dakers (item 11)
Kathleen Ferrier, contralto and Frederick Stone, piano (items 12 and 13)
Recorded 1952-2000
DECCA British Music Collection 470 384-2 [52’07]


This is a miscellaneous vocal Stanford collection, all briny tang and cloister, ethereal visions and powder keg - it can only be Songs of the Sea and The Bluebird. There is much else besides, of course, and in common with other discs in this strangely uneven British Music Collection, Decca have trawled Kathleen Ferrier’s BBC Archives and come up with her 1952 The Fairy Lough and A Soft Day to close the disc. Between The Bluebird and Ferrier are a series of church compositions. David Hill and his combined forces, who have a particular affinity in this repertoire, contribute three items with as much sensitivity and finesse as they do on the Parry CD in this series; the two psalm settings are the province of George Guest whilst other Oxbridge contributions come from Edward Higginbotham and Boris Ord.

The Stanford ethereality is movingly conveyed by the Choir of New College, Oxford whilst they are equally convincing in a splendid performance of Beata quorum via. But this is not necessarily the ideal introduction to Songs of the Sea, a work that has suffered some critical ridicule over the years – I read a particularly contemptuous notice recently – but which seems to me as bracing, vivacious and alive as ever. Allen and Norrington bring a panoply of skills to the work; maybe they lack the salty gumption of Luxon or the surety and confidence of Peter Dawson but they have other qualities of their own. Allen is firm and stout in Drake’s Drum without recourse to a stentorian bark and floats a nuanced half voice for the phrase Captain art thou…The choir and orchestra are on good, lashing form in Devon whilst Norrington gives full vent to the Brahmsian unfolding of Homeward Bound with a particularly well shaped ending. The Old Superb is good but not really full-bloodedly exultant enough. A good reading then, never over polite but equally not quite powerful enough. Apart from some rather unblended male voices in the Te Deum Laudamus this is an impressively cohesive reading whilst the Magnificat is notable for its firmness and lyricism. I admit that the Nunc Dimittis from the Service in B flat, Op 10, threatens for much of its three-minute length to turn Parsifalian on the congregation but that’s not necessarily an entirely bad thing. Treble Richard White is sensitive in the Magnificat from the Service in G and the Nunc Dimittis from the same work is quite lovely – pliant, sensitive, withdrawn, untheatrical, responsive. There is freshness, nobility and conviction in the Guest performance of Psalm 150 – with a wide tonal range from the choir.

The final items are Lionel Dakers’ Agnus Dei and the two Ferrier songs. Once or twice I felt Ferrier over studied, a minority opinion I’m sure but one I feel about her singing of some of the English repertoire, but her hushed sensitivity at the end of A Soft Day is simply ravishing. Sound quality is excellent and the notes by Raymond McGill concise (a compliment). This is a modestly persuasive disc.

Jonathan Woolf

See also review by Raymond Walker

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