This is a seasonal
follow-up to the CD entitled Once
were Angels – a disc celebrating
the boy treble voice, which Griffin
released a little while ago. review
Once again the source is the many albums
originally released on the Alpha and
Abbey labels. The moving spirit behind
these recordings, and countless others
of British church choirs, was Harry
Mudd, MBE, the founder of Alpha Records.
Several very gifted
young musicians are featured here and
few allowances, if any, need to be made
for their ages. For the most part the
recorded sound is pretty satisfactory,
especially when one remembers that Mudd
and his colleagues were not exactly
using state-of-the-art recording equipment.
Only a few of the Chichester Cathedral
tracks disappoint in terms of sound.
Some, but not all, of the recordings
of that choir sound to have been made
in a very confined, boxy acoustic, perhaps
a rehearsal hall?
The two soloists of
whom we hear most are Paul Dutton of
Leeds Parish Church and Andrew Wicks
of Chichester Cathedral. Paul Dutton
is unfairly taxed, I think, by the ponderously
slow speed set by Donald Hunt for Once
in Royal David’s City. Since Dutton
is scrupulous over diction – and rightly
so – the result sounds mannered at this
speed. However, matters improve in Michael
Head’s charming song, The Little
Road to Bethlehem, where
Dutton’s singing is quite disarming.
He conveys a genuine – and appropriate
- sense of wonder in his solos in I
Wonder as I Wander but I was less
happy with O Little Town of Bethlehem
where he seems to have trouble with
his breathing and, as a result, chops
up the phrases rather noticeably.
I was mightily impressed
by Andrew Wicks’ haunting solo work
in Leighton’s Lullay Lulla.
Indeed, I can’t recall hearing a better
account of this; his colleagues in the
Chichester choir are pretty good as
well. It’s good to hear Peter Hurford’s
exuberant Sunny Bank again and
here as well Wicks makes a splendid
contribution. I was rather puzzled,
however, by the inclusion of certain
other Chichester tracks. I can’t for
the life of me see what All God’s
Chillun’/I Got a Robe has to do
with Christmas. There are, moreover,
one or two of their items, such as Ding
Dong Merrily, where I couldn’t readily
pick out a treble solo.
Michael Criswell catches
the ear with his nice round voice and
good control. Arguably Little Jesus
Sweetly Sleep is taken a bit too
slowly, but that’s not his fault. He
also sings the perennial favourite Away
in a Manger very nicely indeed though
I could have done without the organ
introduction, which is rather at odds
with the essential simplicity of this
Robin Walker only features
on one track, Bairstow’s delightful
The Blessed Virgin’s Cradle
Song. I love the way that at times
his solo voice emerges so naturally
and effortlessly from the texture of
his treble colleagues. Daniel Ludford-Thomas
of Northampton does well in the Howard
Blake item, though I feel the organ
accompaniment, at least as recorded,
is a bit on the hefty side. He also
features as soloist in the first two
verses of Rutter’s Candlelight Carol.
These verses aren’t actually meant to
be sung as solos but I feel sure that
the composer wouldn’t object in the
face of such quality singing.
I admired the breath
control and tone of David Elias in Tomorrow
Shall Be my Dancing Day Incidentally,
pace the track listing I think
the arrangement used is solely by Sir
David Willcocks. Elias has a strong
clear tone, which he uses to excellent
advantage. In King Jesus Hath a Garden
we have to wait until the penultimate
verse to hear David Rees-Williams sing
his solo but it’s worth the wait for
his is one of the most natural and pleasing
deliveries on the whole disc.
Another item that doesn’t
seem to me to qualify as a Christmas
item is Rejoice the Lord is
King. I associate this with Easter
and Ascensiontide. However, its inclusion
is welcome since it allows us to hear
the boy who, for me, possesses the most
individual and characterful voice in
this anthology. Jeremy Bowyer is excellent.
In reviewing the companion disc my colleague,
Jonathan Woolf, referred to Bowyer’s
"slightly darker" voice and
drew attention to his clarity and confidence.
I hadn’t read Jonathan’s comments before
listening to the present disc but I
concur wholeheartedly with his view.
Bowyer’s voice has just the right amount
of edge but in achieving that he doesn’t
lose any roundness of tone.
I’m afraid Peter Davey’s
tone is too fruity for my taste in Britten’s
New Year Carol By contrast. the
disarmingly innocent enthusiasm of Michael
Mace in Myn Liking is a delight.
includes "where are they now"
notes about most of the soloists. It’s
noticeable how many of them have remained
active in music, often professionally,
and those that haven’t seem to have
prospered in other fields. This confirms
a view I’ve long held that membership
of the choir of a cathedral or comparable
ecclesiastical foundation is one of
the greatest privileges a young boy
can have for it offers not just the
prospect of an incomparable musical
grounding but also an opportunity at
a very early age to experience such
invaluable things as teamwork and -
dare one say it without sounding pompous
and old-fashioned? – discipline and
self-discipline. The boys heard here
are, of course, among the vocal crème
de la crème but is it any
wonder that they all sing with such
commitment and confidence? I only wish
such an opportunity had been available
to me at their age and I do hope that
the tradition which these young musicians
represent can not just be kept alive
but that it will prosper.
This is probably not
a disc to play through at one sitting.
However, it will give a great deal of
pleasure, I’m sure, and not just to
aficionados of the treble voice.