This intelligently planned and, for the most part, well-executed
CD commemorates a special occasion. On 2 July 1997 the choir of
Lincoln College visited the Vatican and performed Górecki's
Totus tuus in St. Peter's Square in front of Pope John Paul II.
I'm not sure how well this piece of music, with its sustained passages
of quiet singing, came over in the open air bustle of St. Peter's
Square but I'm sure the Pope was delighted by the tribute, almost
exactly ten years to the day since the piece had been first performed
to welcome him back to Warsaw. The CD liner includes a very happy
looking photograph of the choir with the Pontiff.
The otherwise extremely comprehensive booklet does not give the
date when this CD was recorded but I assume it was around the
time of the visit to Rome as David Terry's period as Organ Scholar
of the college (1994-97) came to a close. Benjamin Nicholas, who
accompanies several items most effectively, was Organ Scholar
at the college between 1995 and 1998. He has a solo, the Widor
item, which he plays very well indeed.
Lincoln College (or The College of the Blessed Mary and All Saints,
Lincoln, to give its full title) is one of the oldest Oxford Colleges.
It was founded in 1427. One of its major claims to fame is that
John Wesley was a Fellow of the college. Given the college's dedication
to the Blessed Virgin the idea behind this programme is especially
apposite. The music runs chronologically through the church's
year, proceeding from the Nativity of the Virgin through events
in her life such as the Annunciation, the birth of Christ, Easter,
and the Dormition (falling asleep) of Mary. This scheme is described
in more detail in the excellent and readable liner notes by Dr.
At the time of this recording the choir consisted of eight sopranos,
seven female altos, six tenors and eight basses. The recording
took place in the chapel of neighbouring Exeter College, presumably
because the small Lincoln chapel and its organ were considered
not to be large enough. I suppose I should get out into the open
at once my one reservation about this disc. Just occasionally
the relative immaturity of the singers is betrayed by a fractional
but noticeable lapse in pitch on the part of the sopranos. I suspect
this results from a failure by some of the sopranos to support
every note fully. It's especially noticeable, unfortunately, in
the very first item, the Bruckner motet. In the opening phrases,
which are for the women's voices, some notes are just "in
the crack" and when the full choir sings the word "Jesus"
three times, the third and loudest exclamation (track 1, 0'55")
is definitely "democratic" in pitch at the upper end
of the choir, as are some of the notes in the following phrases.
Mind you, it's only fair to say that Bruckner's tessitura is extremely
demanding in places. How difficult these short motets of his are
to sing well!
Thereafter, although there are a few other places where I felt
the pitch was a little bit queasy, the singing is much more secure.
So, for instance, the exquisite Parsons Ave Maria (track 4) is
very well done. I also enjoyed the Howells Magnificat (track 5)
very much. This is a quite wonderful setting of the canticle.
Howells's music is extremely responsive to the several moods of
the text and I thought the Lincoln singers were remarkably sensitive
to these changes of ambience. Some may miss the extra cutting
edge of boy trebles in the soaring, ecstatic "Glory be"
but I found this Lincoln account very satisfying.
The programme contains several enterprising choices. Chief among
these is the piece by Dupré (track 6). Here the composer
follows the old practice of alternatim. The odd-numbered stanzas
are sung by the male voices in plainchant while the even-numbered
stanzas are not sung but, instead, the organ plays a meditation
on the unsung words. These meditations are closely related to
the chant and have the feel of an improvisation. Indeed, I rather
suspect that improvisation may have been the origin of the piece,
as was Dupré's much larger Versets sur les Vèpres
de la Vierge, Op. 1eight (1919) - the date of composition of Ave
Maris Stella is not given in the notes. This performance is entirely
successful. The plainchant is delivered idiomatically and atmospherically
and Benjamin Nicholas plays the organ interludes with finesse,
especially the driving toccata ("Amen") with which the
work ends and which somewhat unexpectedly concludes quite quietly,
Another novelty is the piece by the well-known organist, David
Sanger, whose pupil Benjamin Nicholas was at the time of this
recording. This piece was written for the Lincoln choir, presumably
around the period prior to the recording. In his notes John Caldwell
adduces the influence of Messiaen. I'd agree; indeed, the piece
reminded me strongly of the French master's marvellously rapt
O Sacrum Convivium. The harmonies sound extremely challenging
for the singers but so far as I could tell (the piece was new
to me) they do it very well indeed. As I say, I hadn't heard this
piece before but I admired it very much.
The Górecki piece was, presumably, the foundation stone
of this recital. It is in his later, more accessible style. Though
simple in structure and melody it
demands exceptional dynamic control - which it receives here.
Indeed, these young singers give an extremely fine and devoted
performance, as good as any I've heard of the work. If their Vatican
performance was as good as this then I'm sure the Holy Father
will have been well pleased.
Despite the reservation I expressed earlier about occasional
lapses in pitch I wouldn't wish that issue to deter prospective
purchasers. Those blemishes do exist but they affect only a fairly
small proportion of the contents of the CD. Of greater importance,
I think, is the fact that Terry and his singers have put together
a richly varied and imaginatively planned programme and have then
executed it with dedication, commitment and no little skill. The
attractions of the disc are enhanced by the excellent recorded
sound and documentation. All texts are printed, with English translations
where appropriate and the layout is very clear, although the notes
are also provided in French, Spanish and Italian.
By the nature of things university choirs are extremely transitory
in nature and this CD is an excellent souvenir of Lincoln College's
"class of '97'. I enjoyed this disc and am happy to recommend