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Cantate Domino: Music for Three Evensongs
The Chapel Choir of University College, Durham directed by Christopher Totney
David Jackson (organ)
Recorded in Durham Castle (University College) 19-21 June 2003

Adrian BATTEN (1591-1637): O Sing Joyfully [1’56"]
Psalm 114: Tonus Pelegrinus, ed. Christopher Totney (b.1982) [2’17"]
Psalm 115: chant: Gerald Knight (1908-1979) [4’29"]
Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625): The Short Service: Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis [5’39"]
Richard NICOLSON (1563-1639): Cantate Domino [2’35"]
Thomas TALLIS (c1505-1585): Hymn: Glory to Thee, my God [2’42"]
Richard FARRANT (c1530-1580) or John HILTON (d. 1608): Lord, for thy tender mercy’s sake [2’22"]
Psalm 126: chant: George Garrett (1834-1897) [1’44"]
Psalm 127: chant: John Leman Rogers (1780-1847) [2’11"]
Psalm 128: chant: Christopher Totney [2’09"]
Psalm 129: chant: George Garrett [2’12"]
Psalm 130: chant: William Ellis [2’36"]
Psalm 131: chant Sir David Willcocks (b. 1919) [1’43"]
Thomas CAUSTON (c1520-1569): Evening Service for four voices: Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis [6’58"]
Robert PARSONS (c1568-1572): Ave Maria [4’45"]
Orlando GIBBONS: Hymn: Love of the Father [3’11"]
Thomas TALLIS: If ye love me [2’03"]
Psalm 142: chant: Joseph Barnby (1838-1896) [2’50"]
Psalm 143: Chant: Martin Hurst and Christopher Totney [4’28"]
Thomas TALLIS: The Short Service (Dorian Mode): Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis [5’44"]; Loquebantur variis linguis [4’14"]

University College, Durham, which is part of that city’s university, is based in the historic castle. Its Chapel Choir sings weekly services in the Tunstall Chapel there under the direction of a second year music student (Christopher Totney at the time that this recording was made.). Tunstall Chapel, which has an organ, was the venue for the recording of the hymns and psalms. For the unaccompanied items the singers moved to the castle’s eleventh century Norman Chapel.

This CD contains the music for three different evensongs (settings of the preces and responses are not included.) Though not specified in the notes, I think I am right in saying that the psalms that are sung are those prescribed for the twenty-third, twenty-seventh and twenty-ninth evenings of the month. These psalms are generally well paced and intelligently pointed. I must say, however, that I thought that the organ accompaniments were rather plain and unimaginative. However, to be fair to David Jackson this may well be due to the limitations of the instrument itself. No details of the organ are given but it sounds to be a rather small instrument and it may not have many stops.

The choir consists of six sopranos, four female altos and four each of tenors and basses. All are students and I think that the youth of the singers is one of the main drawbacks to this recording. The singers produce a rather pale, "white" sound. There is a lack of any real firmness in the bass and the soprano sound is often somewhat piping. The choir as a whole lacks sufficient sonority and sometimes it sounded to me as if intonation on the top line in particular wavered just a fraction (but enough to be noticeable.) Mind you, I don’t think the singers have been flattered by the acoustics of either recording venue. To judge by the booklet photographs both chapels are small buildings and the rather confined spaces cramp the sound. Had the choir been recorded in a larger church the additional resonance would probably have done them greater justice and allowed them to expand their sound more. (Interestingly, I have just reviewed a recording, also on the Lammas label, made in Wells Cathedral. The recording engineer, Lance Andrews, was the same on both recordings and he achieved excellent results in the much more spacious acoustic at Wells. So I attribute any sonic problems to the venues not the engineering.)

Some of the pieces come off well. The wonderful Parsons anthem is nicely done as is Tallis’s exquisite if ye love me. However, the Batten piece with which the disc opens needed more life and energy. Here and elsewhere the singing sounded too careful.

I have no doubt that if I had attended an evensong sung by this choir I would have come away having enjoyed their singing very much but I’m less sure that it stands up to repeated listening. There are good, informative notes by Christopher Totney and texts are provided. I’m very sorry that I can’t be more positive about this disc, since it has evidently been prepared with great care. Unfortunately, it enters an extremely full and competitive market and, particularly as it is a full priced release, it can only be given a qualified welcome.

John Quinn

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