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Abide With Me and other favourite hymns.
All people that on earth do dwell*; Dear Lord and Father of Mankind; King of glory, King of peace; Ye watchers and ye holy ones*; Let all mortal flesh keep silent; Immortal, invisible, God only wise; All my hope on God is founded; The Lord’s my shepherd; Tell out, my soul*; Christ is made the sure foundation; Come down, O Love divine; Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation; And did those feet in ancient time (Jerusalem)*; Abide with me; Alleluya, sing to Jesus!; Ye holy angels bright*; My song is love unknown; Holy, holy, holy!; Glorious things of thee are spoken; O for a thousand tongues to sing; Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven*; O praise ye the Lord*
Marlowe Brass Ensemble*, Roger Judd (assistant organist), The Choir of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle/Tim Byram-Wigfield
Recorded in the Church of the Sacred Heart, Wimbledon, UK, from 27th to 29th April, 2004
NAXOS 8.557578 [69:06]

The Choir of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, has been in existence since 1348. With the exception of the Commonwealth period 1649 – 1660 it has sung services in the Chapel continuously since then. The present body of singers is moderately sized (23 boy choristers and twelve Lay Clerks) but as recorded here in the warm and resonant but not over-reverberant acoustics of the Church of the Sacred Heart, Wimbledon, they produce a well-balanced and homogenous sound; there is no lack of power.

Timothy Byram-Wigfield was appointed Director of Music as recently as January 2004, so this recording shows him in the very beginning of his tenure. He has spared no effort to present as varied a programme as possible, besides using the full choir, sometimes only the treble voices, sometimes the male voices, sometimes unaccompanied. Some of the hymns use the excellent Marlowe Brass Ensemble to very good effect. As a result of adding additional colour and punch the programme can be listened to straight through in one sitting. However preferably it should be enjoyed in more manageable helpings.

Sound quality is good and the organ-choir balance is well-judged. There are as usual good programme notes by Keith Anderson and the sung texts are available on-line, which still feels a little niggardly.

Tempos are generally on the fast side which means that we are spared the heavy-footed plodding of some performances; on the contrary there is a lightness of touch that feels wholly appropriate. There are several compilations of this kind and I won’t pretend that I have heard all of them, nor have I made many comparisons worth mentioning. I got down from my shelves, though, the 20-year-old EMI recording of the Huddersfield Choral Society, a much larger body of singers with sopranos and contraltos and recorded in the vast acoustics of Huddersfield Town Hall. The only hymn in common for the two discs turned out to be Abide with me. The Huddersfield is impressive in its majestic, more romantic approach with measured tempos, fatter sound, wider dynamics including ravishingly hushed pianissimo singing and drawn out ritardandos. A playing time of 4:51 as opposed to Windsor’s 3:44 gives an indication of the differences. I still like the Huddersfield a lot but today I prefer the more slim-lined and lighter Windsor approach. Even King’s College and Stephen Cleobury were on the slow side, clocking in at 4:19. Timings are not of course the only criterion, but at least they show something that is easily measurable.

Picking some personal favourites I would like to mention The Lord is my Shepherd, Tell out, my soul with jubilant brass and Parry’s eternal Jerusalem, in which there is no lack of weight.

Everybody has, I suppose, his or her favourite hymns, and if some of them are on the list in the heading and one can accept some livelier speeds than usual, this disc is a safe recommendation. Playing time is generous and the singing is well-tuned, enthusiastic and refreshing.

Göran Forsling



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