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Your Sweetest Notes - new music from Norwich
Charles V. Stanford (1852-1924)
Ye Choirs of new Jerusalem (1910) [5:01]
William Byrd (1543-1623)
Prevent us, O Lord [2:34]
David Cooper
Come my way [2:28]
Patrick Hadley (1899-1975)
My Beloved Spake (1936) [2:52]
Michael Nicholas
A Song of Hosea [3:09]
Carl Rutti (b. 1949)
St. Peter and St. Paul (1997) [5:44]
Peter Aston (b. 1938)
If Ye Love Me [3:24]; How Lovely is thy Dwelling Place [3:28]
Herbert Howells (1892-1983)
O pray for the peace of Jerusalem (1941) [5:18]
Matthew Cann (b. 1972)
I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes (2000) [3:14]
Edward C. Bairstow (1874-1946)
If the Lord Had Not Helped Me (1910) [6:05]
Spencer Mitchell
O Sacrum Convivium [3:44]
Heathcote Statham (1889-1973)
Ye that know the Lord is gracious [3:06]
Edgar L. Bainton (1880-1956)
And I saw a New Heaven [4:48]
Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943)
O Magnum Mysterium (1994) [5:31]
Andrew Simpson (b. 1968)
Dixit Dominus (2000) [5:12]
The Choir of Norwich Cathedral/David Dunnett
Julian Thomas (Organist)
rec. Norwich Cathedral, 26-28 June 2006. DDD
GRIFFIN RECORDS GCCD 4055 [65:47]
 


The subtitle of this disc “new music from Norwich” would be even more appropriate if the word "cathedral" was added after “Norwich”. Of the eight new or recent pieces here recorded all have a Norwich connection as do several of the more famous ones also performed. Few cathedrals anywhere could boast of having so much creative talent among their own personnel.
 
The first of the “new” works to appear is a setting by David Cooper - one-time organist at Norwich - of George Herbert’s Come My Way, which has been set by numerous composers in the 20th Century. The best known of these settings is by Vaughan Williams in the Five Mystical Songs, but Cooper’s is different in both layout and mood. It is unaccompanied for the first two verses and is rather sad in tone, almost like a plea. This is followed by Norwich’s former organist Michael Nicholas’ Song of Hosea, a premiere, which struck me as old-fashioned and harmonically undistinguished. Very different in style is the little cantata St. Peter and St. Paul by the well-known Carl Rutti.  This work is convincing dramatically, but not as much musically. The choir works hard to put it across. Another premiere recording is by composer, teacher and Norwich lay clerk, Peter Aston, If you love me (John 14). While conservative I found this quite touching as was another Aston piece How lovely is thy dwelling place; indeed I found this more moving than the first Aston piece.
 
Perhaps the most impressive of the newer pieces is Mathew Cann’s setting of Psalm 121, I will lift up my eyes, which Cann wrote for his own wedding ceremony. He has a real ability to set words to effective music. The choristers seemed to like the piece as it is extremely well performed. One of Cann’s colleagues at Norwich, Spencer Mitchell, has become increasingly well known recently. His gentle setting of O Sacrum Convivium has plainsong injected into its bloodstream, somewhat as in the music of Duruflé and is the more effective for it. The entire disc ends with Andrew Simpson’s Dixit Dominus, written for the enthronement of Graham James as Bishop of Norwich in 2000. This is an exciting piece, with echoes from the 18th Century and has an especially impressive middle section beginning with the words Sacerdotes eius. I’m sure the Bishop was pleased.
 
The more standard works on this disc start off with one of Stanford’s liveliest short works Ye Choirs of New Jerusalem. David Dunnett adopts a lighter and more restrained approach than is usual - compare Winchester Cathedral Choir on Hyperion - and lacking in stateliness, at least to me. The high voices on this work are in very good form, as they are in the following Prevent us, O Lord by Byrd. However, in both these pieces it is difficult to make out the lower voices and this problem recurs periodically on the disc so that it is frequently difficult to hear them.  Hadley’s My beloved spake is more successful sonically, although I prefer the old recording by Hadley’s own Choir of Caius and Gonville College. Another problem comes up in the performance of Howells’ O pray for the peace of Jerusalem: the choir’s intonation is very indistinct. This applies to several of the newer pieces too. By contrast, the Bairstow, Bainton and Statham works (all well known) as well as the Cann have excellent intonation and demonstrate what I think is David Dunnett’s strong point-firm control of the interweaving of voices. This is especially evident in the Bairstow, a wonderful rendition. The performance of Martin Lauridsen’s O magnum mysterium is well thought out and merits the great compliment of sounding authentically American. In all this Julian Thomas provides excellent organ accompaniment, indeed he is the most consistent performer on the disc.
 
This record cannot be considered one of Norwich Cathedral Choir’s best efforts - the quality of performance is too variable and the recalcitrant acoustic of the Cathedral frequently defeats the engineers’ efforts, as it has done before. For its new and interesting church music it can be recommended highly and the quality of its recent music alone justifies its purchase.
 
William Kreindler

 

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