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Songs of Heaven And Earth
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872 – 1958)

Heart’s Music (1954)
Valiant-for-truth (1940)
Three Choral Hymns (1930)a
Brian BROCKLESS (1926 – 1995)

Christ is now rysen agayne (1958)
Now blessed be Thou, Christ Jesu (1959)
Come Holy Spirite (1976, rev. 1985)
There is a garden in her face (1953)
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913 – 1976)

Festival Te Deum Op.32 (1944)a
Five Flower Songs Op.47 (1950)
Jonathan HARVEY (b.1939)

Come, Holy Ghost (1984)
I Love the Lord (1976)
Howard SKEMPTON (b.1947)

Two Poems of Edward Thomas (1996)b
The Choir of Queen’s College, Cambridge; Samuel Hayes (organ)a; Matthew Steynor (director), James Weeks (director)b
Recorded: Queen’s College Chapel, Cambridge, June 2001 and June 2000 (Skempton)
GUILD GMCD 7265 [67:50]


Some time ago I reviewed another choral collection by the Choir of Queen’s College, Cambridge (Flight of Song – GMCD 7213) which offered a number of fairly recent British choral works. The present release under review goes on exploring the British choral tradition, sacred and profane, familiar and not-so-familiar, in works by composers with a lasting association with the genre, although several works here will probably be rather unfamiliar. For example, Vaughan Williams is represented here by a couple of short works (Heart’s Music and Valiant-for-truth) which were new to me. The motet Valiant-for-truth is yet another off-shoot of Vaughan Williams’ lifelong concern with Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress which culminated with the completion of the ‘morality’ in the early 1950s. RVW’s Three Choral Hymns were composed for the Silver Jubilee of the Leith Hill Festival in 1930. For the occasion, he also wrote the Hundredth Psalm for the Lower Division and the fairly well-known Benedicite. These are settings of three hymns by Miles Coverdale (Easter Hymn, Christmas Hymn and Whitsunday hymn). More than twenty years later, he will return to Coverdale’s Christmas Hymn which he will partly set again in his Christmas cantata Hodie.

By sheer (or calculated?) coincidence, settings of the same texts (albeit in the older spelling) by Brian Brockless also feature here. Brockless’s and RVW’s settings are fairly simple and straightforward, although they nevertheless challenge the singers’ skills, each in its own way. So does Brockless’s fine setting of Campions’s There is a garden in her face.

Britten has the lion’s share here with his fine and fairly popular Festival Te Deum Op.32 (one of his most successful short sacred works) and the somewhat lesser-known part-song cycle Five Flower Songs Op.47. Both get superbly assured and vivid readings Five Flower Songs Op.47 is a splendid example of Britten’s mastery when dealing with words, displaying a keen understanding of the words and much technical ingenuity (particularly so in the cleverly done The Succession of the Four Sweet Months, developing into a fairly complex fugal structure). This beautiful ends with a rumbustious finale.

Jonathan Harvey has consistently composed for voices and has brought some fresh air into the British choral tradition in which he was brought up. Come, Holy Ghost, in which the plainsong hymn Veni Creator Spiritus is transformed in many novel ways including aleatoric techniques, has become a real 20th Century classic in its own right, in spite of the many demands it puts on singers. By comparison, the earlier setting I love the Lord is fairly simple, but quite effective in its own way, too.

Skempton’s choral music featured generously in Flight of Song and is further illustrated here with his Two Poems of Edward Thomas. As much else in his output, the music is simple, almost minimalist at times, but quite effective in its simplicity and economy of means.

I enjoyed the present release enormously which, I think, may be safely recommended both for the unfamiliar works on offer and for the overall quality of the singing. Recording and production are up to Guild’s best standards.

Hubert Culot

see also review by John Quinn


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