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Lammas Records

Such a feast –Treble solos sung by Jonathan Rendell
Gottfried Heinrich STÖLZEL (?) (1690-1749)

Bist du bei mir (BWV 580) [02:37]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)

Messiah (HWV 56): I know that my redeemer liveth [05:44]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)

An Evening Hymn (Now that the sun hath veil’d his light) (Z 193) [03:56]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)

Requiem op. 48: Pie Jesu [03:22]
Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848-1918)

Long since in Egypt’s plenteous land [05:03]
Paul EDWARDS (b 1956)

No small wonder [02:41]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)

A New Year Carol [02:30]
Geoffrey BURGON (b 1941)

Nunc dimittis [02:45]
Max REGER (1873-1916)

Zwei geistliche Lieder:
Ich sehe dich in tausend Bildern [03:02]
Meine Seele ist still zu Gott [03:10]
Matthew OWENS (b 1971)

O sacrum convivium [03:17]
Frank MARTIN (1890-1974)/arr Ian TRACEY

The Lord’s Prayer [02:57]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)

The Call
César FRANCK (1822-1890)

Panis Angelicus [04:36]
trad/arr POWELL

Amazing Grace [02:53]
Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902-1986)

Requiem op. 9: Pie Jesu [03:56]
Shaker tune/arr Matthew OWENS

Lord of the dance
Jonathan Rendell, treble; Kathryn Greeley, violin; William Conway, cello; Matthew Owens, organ
Recorded in January 2002 in St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh, UK DDD


Some people believe the voice of a treble is one of the greatest beauties in music, and they are right. It is just a shame that it is so short-lived. When a boy is somewhere between 12 and 15 his voice changes for ever. As a consequence one has to act quickly if one wants to immortalize the voice of a particular treble. The real art is to make a recording when the voice is at its best and doesn't yet display the first signs of its demise.

It is almost inevitable that on a disc devoted to a singer the music comes second. But that is no excuse for the fact that the repertoire on recordings of trebles is often very unimaginative. Avid collectors of discs with trebles must have at least 40 versions of Mendelssohn’s ‘Hear my prayer’ or the ‘Pie Jesu’ from Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem on their shelves, not to mention a respectable number of performances of the famous or infamous setting of ‘Ave Maria’ by ‘Bach/Gounod’. These pieces are sacred and not unsuitable to be sung by a treble. But there are also recordings with arias from oratorios or even operas and secular songs by Schubert which are totally inappropriate for boys to sing. These pieces do these trebles no good at all.

In this respect the present recording with Jonathan Rendell is a positive exception. Yes, there is Fauré's 'Pie Jesu' again and another 'treble favourite', César Franck's 'Panis Angelicus'. Otherwise the disc is dominated by music that a member of a British cathedral or college choir would be familiar with. And it is in this kind of music that the indisputable qualities of Jonathan Rendell's voice are most impressively displayed.

A remarkable feature of his voice is the strength of his low register. I don't know whether that is a sign of a change of his voice or just a characteristic of his voice as such. The single fact that the low register is strong doesn't necessarily mean that it should be used consistently. I am not happy with the fact that Jonathan Rendell sings some items in his low register, where there is no need whatsoever to do so. An example is the very first piece: 'Bist du bei mir' (not by Bach, as the tracklist says, but mostly attributed to his contemporary Stölzel). Since this isn't a sacred piece it is perhaps less than suitable for a boy to sing anyway, but here it is sung in alto range, and Master Rendell doesn't sound very comfortable. In particular the intonation is less than perfect.

The same thing happens in Parry's 'Long since in Egypt's plenteous land', where the voice is rather unstable. Otherwise the intonation is quite good, for example in the aria 'I know that my redeemer liveth' from Handel's Messiah.

In general baroque music is difficult to sing for a British treble who mostly sings church music of the renaissance and the 19th and 20th centuries. This kind of music consists of legato lines, whereas baroque music requires a very precise articulation and a clear differentiation between notes and a strong expression of the text.

From that perspective the choice of Stölzel's piece as the very first item on this disc is unlucky. Handel's aria is done well, but I am far less impressed by Purcell's Evening Hymn. As much as I am in favour of clear articulation, the way the phrases are broken up here – in particular in the concluding ‘Alleluia’ - is almost ridiculous. In the recording of Purcell's complete anthems and services by Robert King (Hyperion) Eamonn O'Dwyer shows how to treat this beautiful piece. And in regard to expression there is no real competition here.

Another point is the pronunciation of pieces in another language than English or Latin. The German pronunciation is reasonable in ‘Bist du bei mir’, but far from perfect in the two sacred songs by Reger.

Fortunately most other items are sung much better. For example, Geoffrey Burgon's Nunc dimittis is given a wonderfully strong and expressive performance. There are fine dynamic contrasts in Vaughan Williams' 'The Call'. In general I would say that the expression in the second half is much stronger than in the first, where I felt that there is a lack of real emotion.

The last piece starts with an unaccompanied stanza, which is dangerous but is mastered quite well by Jonathan Rendell. The whole piece is well done anyway, with a very lively rhythm.

The instrumental accompaniment is alright, although I am not very satisfied with the violin playing in Handel's aria. Franck's 'Panis angelicus' was originally composed for a tenor voice. In a performance by a treble the solo cello is too dominant; it doesn’t blend well with the voice.

A large part of the music on this disc is written in a style I am not particularly fond of. Thanks to Master Rendell I enjoyed it nevertheless – in particular the pieces by British composers – which is no mean achievement.

It is a shame that the booklet is very short on information about the composers and doesn’t contain the lyrics.

Johan van Veen

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