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Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Morning Service in C, op. 115 : Te deum [8:08] Benedictus [5:17]
Three Latin Motets: Justorum Anime [3:21] Coelos ascendit hodie [2:05] Beati quorum via [3:33]
Evening Service in C, op 115 : Magnificat [5:09] Nunc dimittis [3:23]
Communion Service in C, op. 115: Kyrie [1:53] Credo [5:08] Sanctus [1:36] Benedictus [1:47] Agnus dei [2:33] Gloria [3:19]
Prelude in g minor for organ [3:21]
Evening Service in G, op.81: Magnificat [4:44] Nunc dimittis [4:21]
Postlude in d minor for organ [4:44]
For lo, I raise up, op. 145 [7:24]
Choir of St. Johnís College, Cambridge, Christopher Robinson, conductor
Christopher Whitton, organ
Recorded 12-13 July 2002 in St. Johnís College Chapel, Cambridge DDD
NAXOS 8.55794 [71:09]

 

Charles Villiers Stanford, although Irish by birth, was undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in British music from the last century. The teacher of Holst, Moeran, Vaughan Williams and Howells, Stanford was the undisputed founder of the renaissance in English music that began in the late nineteenth century, and continued on through the works of Walton and Britten. It lives still through the likes of Oliver Knussen and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.

Although he composed operas, seven symphonies, and some piano and chamber music, it is through his contributions to the corpus of Anglican church music that he is best remembered and most justifiably celebrated. With Brahms as his musical idol, Stanford enlivened the otherwise waning music of the Victorian composers by using Brahmsian devices such as a cyclical unity in his settings of the morning, communion and evening services, and by giving the organ a much more prominent and dynamic role in the music.

This recording, which presents all the Op. 115 services in C major, along with the Evening Service in G, selected motets and organ works, is outstanding in terms of the quality of the singing, the spot-on intonation and sensitivity to issues of phrasing and enunciation. The all-male choir is well balanced, and the boys sing with a clarity and purity of tone that is a delight to hear, never shrill or over-produced. Christopher Whitton and Jonathan Vaughn make fine use of the splendid St. Johnís College Chapel organ, providing the entire rich splendor that is typical of English Cathedral instruments. Mr. Whittonís solo work in the Prelude and Postlude is taut rhythmically and he is careful, thankfully, not to over-sentimentalize.

If one were to quibble a bit with Mr. Robinsonís interpretations, it would be to say that his tempo choices in the Beati quorum via and the Magnificat of the Service and C are a bit on the slow side. I found that, as a result, the forward motion of the music was a bit compromised. But these are small faults indeed and are quite frankly, a matter of my own personal taste.

The Evening Service in G is given a magnificently lyrical performance, with solo singing by young Oliver Lepage-Dean being of the very highest order. Gareth Jones, although possessed of a fine baritone voice, has a tendency to be a bit mannered in his delivery of the wonderful solo in the Nunc dimittis, and seems to prefer a rather throaty placement of his instrument that comes across a bit gratingly, particularly in the upper registers.

Delightfully dramatic as the motet For lo, I raise up is, this performance comes very close to the "over-the-top" precipice, but is not without its redeeming qualities either. Robinson and the choir certainly get the point across, giving this piece a near operatic performance.

Sound quality is very fine indeed, with ample capturing of the reverberant chapel without blurring the music into mush. Texts are completely understandable on first hearing and without the aid of the texts and translations, which wisely and thankfully are included in the booklet. Program notes by Andrew Burn are well written and thorough. Highly recommended.

Kevin Sutton

see also review by Christopher Howell

 



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