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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Thomas TALLIS (c.1505 - 1585) Videte
Hymn: Salvator mundi, Domine (5vv) [4.57]
Respond: Audivi vocem de caelo (4vv) [4.22]
Antiphon: Salvator mundi salva nos II (5vv) (pub.1575) [3.40]
Respond: Loquebantur variis linguis (7vv) [3.53]
Respond: In pace in idipsum (4vv) [6.09]
Antiphon: O sacrum convivium (5vv) [4.30]
Respond: Videte miraculum (6vv) [12.44]
Respond: Homo quidam fecit cenam magnam (6vv) [5.07]
Magnificat (5vv) [11.49]
Nunc dimittis (5vv) [3.46]
The Chapel Choir of St. Catherine’s College, Cambridge/Alexander Ffinch
Recorded 2-4 July 2002 in St. George’s Church, Chesterton
PRIORY PRCD727 [60’57"]


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One of the striking musical happenings of the last twenty years is the number of very good vocal groups/choirs which have come into being, many of these being either young undergraduates or recent graduands. This is even more noteworthy when one considers the decline in music in our schools and churches. St. Catherine’s College is a case in point. They are very good as a young choir with an almost equally young director of music.

There is much to admire here, but also some rather disturbing faults. The choir relies on contraltos rather than counter-tenors (there is one only). This may be from necessity but is against current practice and thinking. I find it odd, given the recent popularity of the male alto voice and it certainly affects the timbre of the performances. Having said this the tone of the choir is good, both the sopranos and basses being firm and accurate in pitch. The bass tone is particularly noticeable and welcome. This is maybe even a little too much forward, but this serves to give even more definite character to a piece. That very character is heard to advantage in the opening Salvator mundi, Domine. It may be that one gets more used to the sound thereafter as I was not so conscious of it later on. The singers of the inner parts are also sure of their contributions, but not so noticeable.

In performance, the plainchant singing is exemplary and a pleasure to hear. Again a feature of modern choirs is excellence in this type of music. However, some entries are weak in the main body of pieces and lack attack. This then affects other entries in the same passage. The ensemble is generally well blended, speeds are nicely judged and the balance is good. The factors above prevent me giving the disc a whole-hearted welcome, even more so as it is at full price. It must be remembered that the performers are up against very stiff opposition at this level. String competition comes mostly from the Cardinall’s Musick on Signum, not to mention the Tallis Scholars, The Sixteen and other high class professional choirs. At budget price, the Oxford Camerata on Naxos are at least as good and are excellent value.

The booklet, alas, could be more informative; Latin and English translations are given, but the number of singers is not, except in a few cases after a search of the text. We are told nothing about the choir except the names. The history of its foundation together with details of performances and concerts are left unknown. The director, Alexander Ffinch, receives the briefest of mentions at the end of the booklet.


John Portwood



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