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Sain Records

Byd o Heddwch (World in Union)
Gustav HOLST / Charlie SKARBECK Byd o Heddwch (‘World in Union’) [4’22"]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART O Isis und Osiris (Die Zauberflöte) [3’06"]
Alain BOUBLIL/Claude Michel SCHONBERG/Herbert KRETZMER/Jean Marc NAZEL Do you hear the people sing? (Les Miserables) [2’37"]
Joseph KOZMA/Jacques PREVERT/Johnny MERCER Dail yr Hydref (‘Autumn Leaves’) [2’56"]
John Brian HUGHES Surge Illuminare [3’33"]
A. de VIRA Softly as I leave you [3’40"]
Charles GOUNOD Sanctus (Messe Solennelle)* [4’52"]
Enoch SOMTONGA arr. Eric JONES Nkosi Sikelel’i Afrika [3’30"]
Elton JOHN/Tim RICE Can you feel the love tonight? [4’09"]
Charles GOUNOD O Fendigaid Geidwad (‘Christe Salvator’) [3’42"]
Gareth GLYN / Eleri CWYFAN Heriwn, wynebwn y wawr [3’36"]
Ariel RAMIREZ / Felix LUNA Y Geni (‘El nacimento’) [4’04"]
Adolphe ADAM / J. S. DWIGHT Fendigaid Nos (‘O Holy Night’) [3’37"]
J. MARRIOTT / F, GIARDINI Bydded goleuni (‘Let there be light’) [4’13"]
*John Ifor (tenor)
Côr Godre’r Aran/Eirian Owen
Rona Jones (piano)
Recorded at St. Mary’s Church, Dolgellau in March and June 2003
SAIN SCD2394 [53’20"]

This CD was produced, as I gather several have been in the past, to coincide with an overseas tour by Côr Godre’r Aran. Their touring plans are certainly ambitious; this particular tour took them to Australia (for the seventh time!) and New Zealand (their third visit.) They are conducted by their Music Director, Eirian Owen who, at the time of the recording, had been in post for a remarkable twenty-eight years.

As will be obvious from the track-listing this is an eclectic programme. I ought to say at the outset that although not all the chosen repertoire may be to everyone’s taste the standard of performance is consistently high. The choir produces a firm, rounded tone, anchored by a solid bass section and with some typically sappy Welsh tenors (what a unique sound that is!) on the top line. Blend and tuning are excellent; clearly Mr Owen pays scrupulous attention to detail in rehearsal. There is also an impressive dynamic range.

The music is of variable quality. The opening track, from which the album takes is name, is an understandable choice when a choir from one proud rugby-playing nation is about to visit two more citadels of the game. The choir sing the piece well and it’s a sonorous opening to their programme but I’m afraid I think this song is a terrible bowdlerisation of Holst’s fine tune. I disliked it when Dame Kiri sang it and I don’t like the choral arrangement any more.

On the other hand, the chorus from Die Zauberflöte was written specifically for male voices and the choir make a splendid collection of priests (though I wish they’d sung it in the original German rather than in Welsh.) Autumn Leaves is also sung in Welsh and it’s well done, although some may feel it works better as a solo song.

There are no notes about the music itself and that’s especially unfortunate when it comes to John Brian Hughes’ Surge Illuminare. I imagine this setting of Latin words from Isaiah is a fairly recent piece. It’s a dramatic, exciting item and makes a strong impression, especially when it’s as well performed as is the case here. Hughes makes great play with propulsive rhythms in both the choral parts and the piano accompaniment. I would imagine it’s the most musically challenging piece on the disc and the standard of the performance shows the musicianship of the choir.

I was less happy with the Gounod Sanctus, a splendid movement from his St. Cecilia Mass and well worth hearing as a separate item. The important tenor solo ideally needs an Italianate tone which John Ifor, the soloist here, doesn’t have at his disposal. Unfortunately the performance was spoiled for me because the very end of the piece is not presented as Gounod actually wrote it. Instead of a quiet instrumental coda soloist and chorus conclude the piece. I’m sorry, but I think such things matter. Surely Gounod knew what he was doing?

The South African anthem, Nkosi Sikelel’i Afrika is delivered with some proud, strong singing. The choir sing part of the piece in the original Xhosa and part in Welsh. This works, I think, as a nice compliment from Wales to South Africa.

I was impressed with both the sonorous blend and dynamic control that are displayed in Y Geni (‘El nacimento’). The same virtues are evident on the following track, Fendigaid Nos (‘O Holy Night’). The recital concludes with a stirring setting of the hymn that English readers may know better as ‘Thou whose almighty word.’

This is a most accomplished choir. I suspect that the repertoire will limit the appeal of this CD to collectors of male voice choir recordings. However, such collectors can invest with confidence.

John Quinn

Information received:

Interesting to read your review.
Please note that the conductor/director is Mrs Eirian Owen and not MR OWEN.
This choir commissions a large number of works and diverse arrangements as there is a severe restriction on the availability of works composed specifically for men's choirs e.g.Brian Hughes' chorus is part of an exciting and challenging extended work of 50 minutes for soprano soloist, men's choir and small orchestra which was first performed in May 2002 by a group of three choirs and an orchestra of 16 musicians from the Royal Northern College.
The choir consists of 39 highly committed singers - all amateur.
Conductor/Director is an outstanding musician - conductor, arranger, accompanist, voice trainer and teacher.

Thought you'd like to know!!!!

John H. James MVO

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