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The Light of the World: Choral music
George Frederick HANDEL Eternal source of light [3.40]
Walter ALCOCK Sanctus [2.25]
Geoffrey BURGON Nunc Dimittis [3.09]
John DANKWORTH The Light of the World [2.35]
Felix MENDELSSOHN I waited for the Lord [4.39]
George Frederick HANDEL How beautiful are the feet [2.16]
Samuel Sebastian WESLEY Blessed be the God and Father [7.44]
Franz SCHUBERT Ave Maria [5.45]
Robert SCHUMANN The Angels' Goodnight [1.29]
C. Hubert H. PARRY Long since in Egypt's plenteous land [4.15]
TRAD., arr. Malcolm ARCHER Brother James' Air [3.15]
Benjamin BRITTEN Balulalow (A Ceremony of Carols) [1.24]
Benjamin BRITTEN This little babe (A Ceremony of Carols) [1.38]
John RUTTER The Lord bless you and keep you [2.56]
Gabriel FAURÉ Pie Jesu [3.22]
Colin MAWBY Ave verum corpus [4.10]
TRAD I would be true (Londonderry Air). [1.26]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Ave verum corpus [3.24]
Morten LAURISDEN Ubi caritas et amor [8.57]
John RUTTER A Gaelic Blessing [2.18]
Amazing Grace (American folk-hymn melody) [3.18]
Tewkesbury Abbey School Choir/Benjamin Nicholas
Carleton Etherington (organ)
Stephen Taylor (singing teacher)
Recorded at Tewkesbury Abbey, Gloucestershire, England, October 2005
SIGNUM SIGCD068 [74:08]

The disc masquerades under an unfortunate name. The Light of the World was a title coined from a biblical passage (John 8) for the famous painting of Christ by William Holman Hunt (1851) whose symbolic imagery fascinated the Victorian public of the day. I had at first assumed that this was to be a new recording of the equally famous oratorio, The Light of the World, by Arthur Sullivan in need of a second CD revival. Instead, we have a collection of choral music for church and cathedral. Amongst the programme happens to be a piece called The Light of the World by Johnny Dankworth. It is a setting of a piece of the same name by Paul Wigmore. But don’t be put off, the Wigmore/Dankworth piece is very engaging and a delight to listen to!

The collection is drawn from the music of a wide variety of composers. The accompaniment is predominantly organ but there are chamber contributions and a role for the guitar. The programme is a mix of conservatively modern and traditional settings. The variety sustains interest and the blend is good. However, I do find Amazing Grace (American folk melody) and Londonderry Air unusual choices in this context.

The training of the Tewkesbury choir is very good, as one might expect from an abbey of strength rubbing shoulders with the nearby Three Choirs Festival. The pure voices of the trebles are nicely balanced by a slightly recessed men’s choir. The organ has richly resonant 16ft/32ft open wood pipes that give a nice breadth to the sound. Diction is always difficult in a wide acoustic, but clarity here is better than might be expected. Soloist treble, ten year old Andrew Swait, is clear and sings with appealing sweetness of tone and gentle vibrato. On one or two tracks I find the organ intrusive and would have preferred a more forward placing of soloist and choir on the sound-stage to prevent a slight masking effect.

The choir reveals its strength in the presentation of Mawby’s Ave verum corpus. The majesty provided by part harmonies and power of delivery are impressive.

I waited for the Lord was a delight, with Andrew Swait’s solo secure in pitch and purity. An equally good second treble is not named. The throaty 4ft(?) stop used in the accompaniment here gives a sluggish heaviness to what should be the light staccato effect. This couldn’t have made it easy for the proficient singer.

To my ears, Laurisden’s Ubi caritas et amor is less effective. The piece tends to meander without much purpose or stimulation.

Long since in Egypt by Parry (better known as ‘Dear Lord and Father of mankind’) is taken at a distinctly ploddish pace. Its melodic line is a good one and could have been much more engaging had it been taken faster, with the bonus of being more motivating to sing. I was keen to sample composers like Parry, Mawby, Burgon, Alcock and Lauridsen whose works I am less familiar with. The Mahler-like Sanctus by Alcock, with developing crescendo, provides a good opening second track. The Nunc Dimittis by Burgon may not be known by name yet will be recognized by those who remember the 1970s theme tune to BBC TV’s ‘Smiley’s People’ (with Alec Guinness). This is a particularly fine piece, superbly sung.

It is impressive that preparation of this CD has only taken a month and it perhaps puts some of the major labels to shame.

Good notes accompany the disc, which can provide an enjoyable diversion during the festive season.

Raymond J Walker

 

 



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