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Praise and Thanksgiving: Anthems from Salisbury Cathedral
Richard SHEPHARD (b.1949) And When the Builders (1980) [5'10"]
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896) Locus Iste (1869) [2'55"]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) How Lovely are Thy Dwellings (1857-68) [6'13"]
Bernard ROSE (1916-1996) Lord I Have Loved [2'20"]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941) Adagio in E (1905) [6'39"]
Richard SHEPHARD Canticles in Memoriam Lionel Dakers: Magnificat [3'41"]; Nunc Dimittis [2'21"]
Jonathan DOVE (b.1959) Seek Him that Maketh the Seven Stars (1995) [7'20"]
Simon LOLE (b.1957) A Song for Mary Magdalene [2'29"]
David HALLS (b.1963) Te Deum (2002) [5'48"]
Francis JACKSON (b.1917) Prelude on East Acklam [4'39"]
William HARRIS (1883-1973) Holy is the True Light [1'37"]
Malcolm WILLIAMSON (b.1931) Dignus est Agnus [2'15"]
Richard LLOYD (b.1933) View me, Lord [2'40"]
Hubert PARRY (1848-1918) I was Glad (1902) [5'35"]
Salisbury Cathedral Choir/Simon Lole.
Organ: David Halls.
Recorded in Salisbury Cathedral, June 2004
GRIFFIN GCCD 4046 [61'47"]

 

This recording has been produced to mark the 75th anniversary of the Friends of Salisbury Cathedral. It represents music sung during a liturgical year, particularly featuring pieces associated with the Friends and the cathedral itself, including some new commissions. There has been church music at the present cathedral for over 700 years, and for 200 years before that at the cathedral at Old Sarum. The music is provided by sixteen boy choristers, six Lay Vicars, the Director of Music, the Organist and the Organ Scholar. In 1991, young girl choristers were admitted into the Choral Foundation and Choir School. This is one of the first things to have struck me on reading the booklet in that six Lay Vicars (two each of alto, tenor and bass) with sixteen of upper voices, (or eighteen girls voices) the choir seems imbalanced, but more of this later.

Simon Lole was a chorister at St. Paul's Cathedral, returning there as organ scholar. He arrived at Salisbury in 1997, via Croydon Parish Church, the parish of Warwick, and Sheffield Cathedral. David Halls was at Harrogate Grammar School, and studied the organ at Ripon Cathedral, and later with Thomas Trotter. He graduated in 1984 from Worcester College, Oxford with an Honours Degree in Music, and was appointed Assistant Organist at Salisbury in 1985. In September he took up the full-time post of Organist and Assistant Director of Music at Salisbury Cathedral.

Richard Shephard is a former Lay Vicar at Salisbury and Director of Music at the Cathedral School; "And When the Builders" was commissioned by the Friends to celebrate their Golden Jubilee in 1980. The text is taken from Ezra, Ezekiel and Haggai and was selected by Michael Sadgrove, now Dean of Durham, formerly on the staff of Salisbury Cathedral. As in all the modern pieces on this disc, this is well sung, clearly enunciated, and the organ playing is excellent. The choir blends well, and the balance is good (see above). The ambience is well controlled, without the prolonged echo notable in some places of worship.

The pieces from Bruckner and Brahms are another matter, however; I would have wished for more sonorous lower parts in the choir, particularly in the Bruckner, and the Brahms could have done with more urgency in the interpretation to my way of thinking. Without the firmness of a solid bass line, a hint of flatness crept into the sound. This is not to say that given the available forces the choir did not sing well; indeed the lack of the more usual numbers makes their achievement the more remarkable. However, much as I am personally in favour of smaller groups, I think there is no doubt that both these works benefit from a larger choir; one just gets the impression that the choir are having to work that bit too hard.

The Bernard Rose anthem is the only one to sound "muddy", but I do not think this is the fault of the choir; the writing is fairly thick, and the ambience for once more resonant (recorded in a different part of the cathedral?) which makes the otherwise very good diction difficult to determine. It is also sung unaccompanied, which should have aided the hearing of the text. This is in contradistinction to the canticles by Richard Shephard, which are also sung a capella but the diction is perfect. These are nice lilting settings, which must be a delight to sing, being also very tuneful.

Jonathan Dove is an up and coming composer, and whilst one may not always agree with his compositions, one must admire the structure and thoughts behind them. In "Seek him that maketh the seven stars", the words, taken from Amos and Psalm 139, are based on the words of St. Edmund, and are well set to give the impression of a search through the unknown regions. Similarly, the work by Simon Lole, the choir's musical director, is evocative and has the choir intoning the name "Mary" in the background. These works are much more difficult in performance, and together with David Hall's Te Deum form the mid-part of this disc. The organ and choir fulfil the pieces admirably within the idiom.

The Frank Bridge and Francis Jackson items for organ are given a soundly played rendering, with suitable registration, and a sound as full-bodied as anyone can wish. The latter composition in particular is a gentle sweetly-flowing piece, which serves as a good foil to the more modern harmonies and chords of the preceding work. The choral items following are in the same vein; unfortunately, the anthem by Sir William Harris is marred by some shaky intonation at the beginning (sung a capella). No such complaints for the gently moving "Worthy is the Lamb" with organ accompaniment by Malcolm Williamson. Here there are some magnificently soaring treble lines which are complemented by the organ. Finally in this more peaceful interlude is a truly beautiful unaccompanied setting of words by Thomas Campion "View me, Lord". The last anthem, the well known and magnificent "I was glad" by Hubert Parry, really needs again much bigger forces than are available here. The choir do their best, and indeed the sopranos manage a good and full sound, but the lower parts need more volume and tone than is here evident.

Throughout, the recording is excellent, and the organ playing more than adequate. The booklet is disappointing; words are given, and the derivation of the pieces is mentioned, but not which pieces are accompanied or sung a capella. Also, the years of composition are lacking, and some more details about the composers and their works would have been welcome, particularly of the younger men whose works are not generally known, except perhaps in church music circles.

A disc in two halves then: very interesting for the modern compositions, but disappointing in the more traditional field.

John Portwood



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