This record brings together twenty-one short works
relating to that period of forty days in the church’s year from the
beginning of Lent to Easter Sunday. There is also one short burst of
church bells. The programme has been well chosen, but as with the other
Easter disc reviewed elsewhere, there is a certain lack of variety which
has its origin in the subject matter, and not everyone will want to
sit and listen right through. Most of the pieces are performed by the
Tewkesbury Abbey Choir under their director, Andrew Sackett, but there
are contributions from four other choirs, conductors and organists.
The one piece from Worcester, John Ireland’s beautiful
hymn Love Unknown, is difficult to judge as it is given here
in a full congregational-style rendering and rather heavy weather is
made of it. I remember being struck by the gentle modulations and aspiring
quality of this tune many years ago as a young bass on the back row
of the school choir, and we certainly aimed for greater sensitivity
then than it receives here.
Westminster Abbey Choir under Martin Neary also provide
only one piece, S.S. Wesley’s big anthem Blessed be the God and Father,
but a splendidly sonorous job they make of it.
The choir of Wells Cathedral has two items, the hymn
Praise to the Holiest in the Height, and Gibbons’ Drop, drop,
slow tears, both of which are given with enough refinement and pleasing
sweetness of tone to make the listener regret that they are given so
little to do.
Likewise the Choir of St. Mary’s Church, Warwick: the
bells which summon in Easter morning are from Warwick, and it falls
to them to deliver the organist Barry Rose’s half-minute Easter Flourish,
a kind of choral and organ fanfare to celebrate the risen Christ. But
with the opening hymn and a short piece of plainchant by Byrd, that
is all we hear of them, which is frustratingly little since we would
like to confirm the feeling that this is another accomplished choir
we would like to hear more of.
The majority of the programme is given by the Tewkesbury
group, and their singing provides much pleasure. Certain of the pieces
are quite demanding technically, and they give a good account of themselves
in this respect. This is not, however, a disc which is meant to be listened
to in a critical way, and little is gained by comparing this or that
version of any particular piece. Better to listen to five or six at
a time and submit to the atmosphere and momentum created.
The disc is arranged, as it were, chronologically,
with music relating to Lent at the beginning and the more joyous pieces
celebrating the Resurrection at the end. The inclusion of the two anthems
by Purcell is therefore easier to explain in this context, placed as
they are near the beginning of the recital: two passionate entreaties
to God, on the one hand, that he might hear our prayer, and on the other,
asking forgiveness for our sins. Both are well sung. In the same spirit
is John Mudd’s Let thy merciful ears, a beautiful, austere prayer
and not to be missed. Lotti’s Crucifixus is staple fare, of course,
but no less welcome for that, a marvellous piece. John Ireland’s Ex
Ore Innocentium and Casals’ O Vos Omnes are commonly encountered
in this company. The recital ends in a spirit of wholehearted rejoicing
with the bells and the flourish already mentioned, as well as Charles
Wood’s beautiful arrangement of This Joyful Eastertide making
us smile in the same way that his arrangements of Christmas music do.
On the other hand, Bairstow’s Lamentation is a long Anglican
chant which blossoms a couple of times into a "Jerusalem"
chorus but which, for this listener at least, more than outstays its
To summarise then, one or two items of dubious musical
interest, several lovely things and a handful of minor masterpieces,
generally well sung, often better than that, and well worth buying if
this kind of anthology appeals to you.