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The English Anthem - Vol. 8
Samuel Sebastian WESLEY (1810-1876) Praise the Lord, my soul* [11’49”]
Stanley VANN (b. 1910) Behold, how good and joyful a thing it is [2’38”]
Percy WHITLOCK (1903-1946) Glorious in Heaven [3’15”]
Christopher DEARNLEY (1930-2000) Jubilate Deo [1’35”]
John SHEPPARD (c.1515-1558) Libera nos I [2’43”]
Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625) Great Lord of Lords* [5’01”]
Sir John GOSS (1800-1880) O pray for the peace of Jerusalem* (from Prise the Lord, O my soul) [4’12”]
Sir John STAINER (1840-1901) They that wait upon the Lord* (from O clap your hands) [3’50”]
Sir Edward BAIRSTOW (1874-1946) Lord, I call upon thee* [4’52”]
Sir William McKIE (1901-1984) We wait for thy loving-kindness, O God* [2’42”]
Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924) Ye choirs of new Jerusalem* [5’08”]
Sir C Hubert H PARRY (1848-1918) Lord, let me know mine end (No.6 from Songs of Farewell) [10’22]
Hubert MIDDLETON (1890-1959) Let my prayer be set forth [1’43”]
Dobrinka TABAKOVA (b.1980) Praise* [5’47”]
John SCOTT (b.1956) Behold, O God our defender [2’46”]
John RUTTER (b.1945) A crown of glory* [5’37”]
The choir of St. Paul’s Cathedral/John Scott
*Huw Williams (organ)
rec. St. Paul’s Cathedral, London 15-16 February and 15-16 March 2004 DDD
HYPERION CDA67483 [75’54”]



 

The arrival of this CD is a bit of a surprise, albeit a most welcome one. The previous seven volumes in this series were recorded between 1989 and 1998, with the last of those recordings actually appearing in the shops the following year, 1999. I’d collected the previous releases but had presumed the series had run its course. I can only presume that this final volume has appeared as a valedictory to John Scott who was Organist of St. Paul’s from 1990 until the summer of 2004, when he crossed the Atlantic to assume a similar post at St. Thomas’s Church, Fifth Avenue, New York.

The programme contains an attractive selection of pieces which are, for the most part, typical staples of the English church music repertoire. In this, it is similar to the previous volumes. But, in common with the earlier issues, there are also some intriguing novelties. The other respect in which the disc is typical of the series is the excellence of the performances. The choir is on fine form and John Scott is clearly bequeathing to his successor, Malcolm Archer, a fine body of singers. In several of the pieces they are well supported by Huw Williams at the mighty St. Paul’s organ. Sometimes Williams is able to “let the merry organ go” but elsewhere he provides accompaniment of excellent discretion.  John Scott’s direction is consistently sympathetic and he clearly is at home in all the different musical idioms in this programme.

Just one or two of the items strike me as a little dull. Wesley’s anthem is one such. For much of its course the music is vigorous and forthright but it outstays its welcome. It’s a long wait to reach the simple eloquence with which Wesley sets the text of the closing pages, ‘Lead me, Lord’ (track 1, 9’23”). The Goss setting is also a bit tedious but the rest is splendid.

Some of the pieces were new to me. Whitlock’s Glorious in Heaven, written in 1925, is scored for two five-part choirs. It’s confident and fluent and I liked it very much. John Scott is President of the Percy Whitlock Trust and his enthusiasm for Whitlock’s music is evident here. I also enjoyed making the acquaintance of the brief, bright and bouncy setting of the Jubilate Deo by Scott’s predecessor at St. Paul’s, Christopher Dearnley and also of the affecting miniature by Hubert Middleton.

Two splendid pieces, one each by Stanford and by Parry, form the cornerstone of the collection which is fitting since these composer’s music is so deeply embedded in the repertoire of most Anglican cathedral choirs. Stanford’s anthem is strong and forthright, yet cultured at the same time. The same description applies to the performance that it receives here from Scott and his choir. Parry’s Songs of Farewell is one of the greatest masterpieces of unaccompanied choral music in the English repertoire. The last in the set, Lord, let me know mine end, is a superb and eloquent composition, skilfully and richly laid out for double choir. This is deeply felt music and John Scott successfully achieves a fine balance between giving the long phrases the time that they need to breathe while at the same time keeping the music on the move.

The recital closes with three contrasting pieces, each of which was first performed by Scott and this choir at special services in St Paul’s in the last couple of years. The young Bulgarian composer, Dobrinka Tabakova’s anthem, Praise, was first heard in the cathedral in 2002 at one of the special services held there to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. It was, apparently, her first venture into the genre but it strikes me as being highly successful. For the most part the music is more restrained than one might expect in view of the title of the piece. Miss Tabakova conjures some unusual and intriguing sonorities from the choir and the discreet organ accompaniment. The slow moving music is highly effective and makes good use of the vast acoustics of the cathedral. It sounds a demanding piece to sing but I hope this won’t prevent other choirs from taking it up for it merits wide exposure, I believe.

So too does John Scott’s own Behold, O God our defender. This was composed, also in 2002, for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Service, one of the centrepieces of the entire Jubilee celebration. Aptly, Scott chose to set a text which had been set by Herbert Howells, a composer he much admires, for the Queen’s coronation service back in 1952. It’s a reflective, tranquil setting which, as Scott openly acknowledges, is stylistically influenced by Howells. It’s a lovely piece.

The concluding piece is also the most recent on the CD. John Rutter wrote A crown of glory for a celebratory service in St. Paul’s in 2004. It’s a fine anthem, grand and majestic and, as usual with Rutter, expertly written for the voices. It culminates in a noble, broad and very singable tune (track 16, 3’27”). Rutter’s work provides a splendid ending to the programme and very effectively brings down the curtain on John Scott’s distinguished tenure at St. Paul’s.

The highly reverberant acoustic of St. Paul’s poses an undoubted challenge to recording engineers. However, the Hyperion team, both of whom have been involved with several previous releases in this series, have the measure of it. Solo voices, trebles in particular, can sound a little lost occasionally but in general the choir is faithfully reproduced, as is the organ. There are excellent notes by William McVicker, who provides informed and stimulating commentaries on the music, as he has throughout the series. Indeed, as always with Hyperion, the documentation is a model of its kind and includes the full texts, with English translations where appropriate.

This is just one of innumerable CDs of great distinction that Hyperion has issued over the years. Many readers will know that the label is currently appealing a legal decision that went against it last year. If the appeal fails Hyperion faces a legal bill estimated to be more than £1 million. Such a massive liability would almost certainly mean the collapse of the label. Without venturing an opinion on the rights and wrongs of the case (though I have a very firm view on the subject) it would be a black day indeed for the record industry and for collectors if that were to happen and the invaluable and still-developing legacy of the late Ted Perry were to be lost to us.  

We must hope that Hyperion weathers this storm for releases of this kind are too precious to be lost to collectors. This present disc is a fitting conclusion to a highly distinguished series of CDs made for the label by John Scott during his tenure at St. Paul’s. I enjoyed it greatly and have no hesitation in recommending it to all lovers of the English choral tradition.

John Quinn

 



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