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
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.
see also review
by John Portwood and