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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Faire Is The Heaven: Hymns and Anthems
Gordon SLATER (1896-1979) arr. Halley Jesu the very thought of thee.
Healey WILLAN (1880-1968) Three Motets; Gloria Deo per immense saecula;
Sydney CAMPBELL (1909-1974) Sing we merrily unto God;
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983) Te Deum;
Samuel S. WESLEY (1810-1876) O Thou who camest from above;
Imant RAMINSH (b.1943) Ave Verum Corpus;
John IRELAND (1879-1962) My Song is Love unknown;
W.A. MOZART (1756-1791) Ave Verum Corpus;
Bryan KELLY (b.1934) Magnificat;
W.H. MONK (1823-1904) Abide with me;
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) Verleih uns Freiden;
William H. HARRIS ( 1883-1973) Faire is the Heaven;
Rev. C.C. SCHOLEFIELD The day thou gavest
Choir of St. John's Church, Elora/Noel Eddison
Paul Halley [organ]
Recorded at St. John's Church, Elora, Ontario, February 2002
NAXOS 8.557037 [63.21]

 

Core repertoire is here mixed with music from the Canadian Anglican tradition and Victorian hymns. The end result is a CD of great beauty and spiritual uplift.

This Canadian Choir, hitherto unknown to me, consists of men and women like most Oxford colleges. They make an ideal sound in the great tradition of Oxbridge. Indeed the choir of St. John's is made up of members of the neighbouring universities’ music faculties and their graduates as well as local professional singers.

The chosen programme successfully blends standard classics like Mozart's gentle masterpiece 'Ave verum Corpus', with a contrasting setting by Imant Raminsh, the Latvian-born Canadian composer. This in itself would surely grace and fit perfectly into a Lenten Evensong at York, Lincoln or Exeter. The English composer Healey Willan emigrated to Canada in 1913 and is well represented by four works. The moving 'Three Marian motets' and the impressive and magnificent 'Gloria Deo'.

The title of the disc is also that of William Harris's deservedly famous double choir anthem, here given a beauteous and ethereal rendering. The disc opens with Paul Halley's clever and very attractive arrangement of Gordon Slater's 'Jesu the very thought of thee' which takes the melody out of its lowly hymn status into a fine anthem but one suitable for most church choirs.

The other hymns, by Ireland, Wesley, Monk and Scholefield, are given simpler treatment. Paul Halley and Stephen Crisp have partially re-harmonized them and have added some very memorable descants. I was especially impressed with the one to Ireland's masterly 'My song is love unknown'. Incidentally have you ever thought that Wesley's tune to his brother's words 'O thou who camest' and 'The day thou gavest' are two of the most tuneful minuets ever written! On this recording, where the first beat of the bar is often gently emphasized more than is the case with 'normal' congregations', it is especially noticeable and delightfully so.

The highlight of the disc, both musically and in performance although none of it is weak, is the rendering of Howells' wonderful 'Te Deum'. Some of Howells' textures evoke loneliness in the vast sepulchral spaces of a huge cathedral. This is especially so with the words "Also the Holy Ghost the comforter". The tempos are well chosen as they are throughout the CD. Some may think that they err on the slow side but for me that is part of the wonder of the music and a sign that this choir has the vocal technique to cope with the necessary sustained phrasing which allows the music time to breathe in this excellent acoustic.

It seems pathetic now, but I well remember the considerable shudder of disapproval that went around the cathedral close where I was a choirboy, when Bryan Kelly produced his Rumba 'Magnificat'. Here it now seems so traditional, but it has certainly not lost its sparkle. Here that sparkle might perhaps have been brought out even more.

The rest of the performances, both from the organ loft by Paul Halley and from the choir, are just right. The booklet notes by John Mayo are quite useful; general yet detailed but not at all technical.

Just a word of warning about the recording. Take time to set the volume, as you will be jumping up and down from your chair adjusting the control suitable for each track. Better still listen through headphones - you are really there. However I do wish that Naxos would deal consistently with this problem, as it is has come up before on other choral CDs.

Gary Higginson

see also review by John Portwood and John Quinn



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