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Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918 – 1990)
Chichester Psalms (1965)a
Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852 – 1924)

A Song of Freedom Op.113 No.1 (1909)b
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913 – 1976)

Rejoice in the Lamb Op.30 (1943)c
Jubilate Deo in C (1961)
Te Deum in C (1935)
Alan RIDOUT (1934 – 1996)

Sacred Songs – Third Setd
William WALTON (1902 – 1983)

Jubilate Deo (1972)
Robert Karlsson (treble)abcd; Helen Tunstall (harp)a; Cameron Sinclair (percussion)a; Wells Cathedral Choir; Rupert Gough (organ); Malcolm Archer (organ)bd; Malcolm Archer (director)
Recorded: Wells Cathedral, July 2000
LAMMAS LAMM 125 D [65:56]

Walter Hussey (1909 – 1985), vicar of St.Matthew’s, Northampton from 1937 to 1955 and Dean of Chichester from 1956 to 1977, did much to foster modern sacred art. Not only did he commission many new works from British composers, he also commissioned Henry Moore (Madonna and Child), John Piper and Graham Sutherland as well as writers, among others, W.H. Auden. Some of you may remember an earlier disc published in 1988 (The Hussey Legacy on CANTUS CAN 301-2) which included Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb Op.30 and Gordon Crosse’s The Covenant of the Rainbow as well as shorter works by Leighton, Howells, Tavener and Finzi. Leonard Bernstein is, if I am not mistaken, the only non-British composer commissioned by Hussey. Chichester Psalms was written at the end of a sabbatical year spent experimenting with various musical idioms with which Bernstein was eventually dissatisfied. He once described Chichester Psalms as his "most B-flat-majorish work". The piece is scored for treble, chorus and orchestra. The composer, however, made a second version for smaller forces (organ, harp and percussion) which is the one heard here. I had never heard this version before (although it is, I think, available in a Hyperion disc released several years ago); but I may report that it is quite effective and works quite well when performed this way, though, I am sure, some will miss the bright orchestral colours with which Bernstein wrapped his extrovert psalm setting. However, the present recorded performance, good as it is (the sharp rhythms of the opening may be wanting but the central slow section is particularly beautifully done), is flawed by a chorus too few in number (I suspect) and marred by a less than satisfying recorded sound sometimes lacking in clarity. Anyone knowing Wells Cathedral’s imposing nave will surely realise the enormous problems it may pose in the matter of recording.

I am glad to say that the smaller works generally sound much better, although Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb does not certainly fit into this category. It was commissioned in 1943 by Walter Hussey, then vicar of St.Matthew’s, Northampton, to celebrate the jubilee of the building, and was one of the first works that Britten composed after returning to Suffolk from the States. Britten’s masterly word setting owing much to Purcell is clearly displayed in this setting of Smart’s curious text, as it is in the near-contemporary Hymn to St Cecilia and A Ceremony of Carols. Britten’s shorter Jubilate Deo and Te Deum in C are none the less expertly written though they are overtly occasional works.

The prolific and versatile Alan Ridout also composed consistently for voices. The third set of Sacred Songs (we are not told when this was written) is for treble voice and organ. It was written for Guildford Cathedral at the request of Barry Rose. Since Guildford Cathedral is dedicated to the Holy Spirit, Rose suggested that Ridout should write a Whitsuntide sequence, that actually begins and ends with Creator Spirit, by whose Aid framing a sequence of contrasted songs.

Two short works complete this varied and most interesting selection, Stanford’s A Song of Freedom for treble voice and organ and Walton’s joyfully bouncing Jubilate Deo written for the choir of Christ Church, Oxford.

On the whole, this is a worthwhile release, notwithstanding the reservations concerning Chichester Psalms, for its mix of familiar and not-so-familiar music (the Ridout must be a first recording). A last grumble, though, for no words are included, a pity particularly in the case of Rejoice in the Lamb and Sacred Songs.

Hubert Culot

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