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Mixing Their Music
Gerald FINZI (1901-1956) God is gone up [4í56"]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983) A Sequence for St. Michael [11í06"]
Plainchant Alma redemptoris mater [2í13"]
Tomás Luis de VICTORIA (1548-1611) Alma redemptoris mater [4í47"]
Plainchant Regina cúli [1í54"]
Tomás Luis de VICTORIA Regina cúli [4í04"]
Johann Ludwig BACH (1677-1731) Unsere Trübsal [5í55"]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Der Geist hilft unsrer Schwachheit auf, BWV 226 [8í31"]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) Richte mich, Gott [4í11"]
Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672) Tröstet, tröstet mein Volk [4í00"]
Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988) Te Deum* [7í04"]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976) Antiphon [7í06"]
Malcolm SINGER (b. 1953) Jubilate* [2í09"]
*First recording
St. Albans Chamber Choir/David Hansell.
Roger Judd (organ)
Recorded July 9-10, 2004 at Aldenham School Chapel, Elstree, Hertfordshire, UK
LAMMAS LAMM 173D [68í02"]


The St Albans Chamber Choir was founded in 1958 and has been under the direction of David Hansell since 1997.

I think the first thing I should say is that, as a choral singer myself, Iíd be delighted to be a member of this choir which performs a very wide-ranging repertoire with evident commitment and no little skill. This CD gives what appears to be a good overview of the choirís repertoire. It is, in many ways a very thoughtfully planned disc. Little things deserve praise: for example the musical programme has been devised as a satisfyingly varied concert sequence but the useful booklet note (by the conductor) discusses the music in chronological order, which makes for a more logical essay. A more substantial touch, of which I approve very much is the decision to preface the two Marian Vespers antiphons by Victoria with plainchant settings of the same texts. Again, what a good idea to preface one of Bachís motets with a short motet by one of his distant cousins! (Johann Ludwig Bach was mainly employed at the court of Meiningen.). As David Hansell observes Johann Ludwigís piece is relatively old-fashioned but itís valuable to hear it and itís marvellous to find a non-professional choir exploring such rare repertoire with evident relish.

Yet, for all the virtues of the programme planning Iím not sure that Iíd recommend listening to this CD straight through for I may as well mention my main reservation straightaway. The choir consists of 19 sopranos, 10 altos, 6 tenors and 8 basses and much of the repertoire that they sing on this disc is for double choir. It seems to me that the choir is shown at its best in the twentieth century repertoire with which the CD opens and closes. The trouble with the middle of the programme is that, so far as I can tell, the full choir is deployed in all the pieces. Unfortunately, though they sing well the choral textures, at least as recorded, sound somewhat unvaried.

For, example, as I said, I think the inclusion of some plainchant is admirable. But it appears to be sung by the full choir. If the menís voices only had been used this would have provided a much more effective contrast with Victoriaís polyphony (it would also have been more authentic.) The polyphonic items themselves, while sympathetically sung, would have sounded better, I believe if a smaller group of singers had been used. As it is, the use of some 43 singers (I presume) results in the sound being somewhat diffuse and there is insufficient clarity in the polyphony. Of the two Victoria settings, Regina cúli comes off best in terms of clarity, perhaps because the two choirs are of differing sets of voices (SSAT and SATB)

The same criticism applies, Iím afraid to the pieces by both Bachs and by Schütz. Things improve when we get to the Mendelssohn piece (and again, a nice programming touch to follow a piece by J. S. Bach with one by one of his earliest champions.) Here it seems that the contrasts that Mendelssohn builds in between high and low voices works to the choirís advantage.

As I indicated earlier, the twentieth century items are very successful. Finziís marvellous Ascension anthem makes for a strong start, with the tenors showing to particularly good advantage. The Howells piece is a demanding choice and itís good to hear it, as itís a comparative rarity. As David Hansell observes, much of this music is "absolutely the quintessence of Howells." The choir copes admirably with the complexities of Howellsí harmonic palette. The work opens and closes in dramatic vein but the middle is much more subdued. The unnamed tenor soloist sings the taxing solo at "Thou wast seen in the temple of God" (track 2, 3í44" Ė 5í15") very well and the imaginative quiet choral passage that follows is done with equal sensitivity.

The Leighton Te Deum, here receiving its first recording, is an interesting and arresting piece. It starts in a subdued mood but Leighton ups the tempo before too long and the singers articulate the punchy rhythms very well. The last few pages are much broader, building to an impressive climax on the words "O Lord, in Thee have I trusted." The piece includes an important organ part and this is a good time to mention the excellent contribution, in a variety of styles, by Roger Judd.

Judd was at one time the Master of the Music at St. Michaelís College, Tenbury, the very place for which Britten wrote his Antiphon in 1956. This setting of words by George Herbert makes imaginative use of three distinct groups of singers. Itís very well done here. To close the recital, we hear another first recording. Malcolm Singerís Jubilate was commissioned by the choir to open the concert with which they celebrated their fortieth anniversary in January 1999. Itís an exciting and resourceful piece for unaccompanied choir and it makes a strong impression, especially when sung as well as it is here.

This recital is something of a mixed bag, then. I canít give it a wholly unqualified recommendation, much though I would like to. But thereís much here that will give pleasure and the enterprising programme is one of the more thoughtfully devised that Iíve come across on CD for quite some time.

John Quinn

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