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Hear my Prayer
Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Justorum animae, Op. 38, No. 1 [3:08]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
Magnificat [5:36]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
O God, Thou art my God [4:08]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Hear my prayer [12:34]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Cantique de Jean Racine, Op. 11 [5:54]
Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902-1986)
Four Motets on Gregorian Themes, Op. 10: No. 1: Ubi caritas et amor [2:35]
Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
God is gone up, Op. 27, No. 2 [5:03]
Edgar BAINTON (1880-1956)
And I saw a new Heaven [5:37]
Remember not, O Lord [3:08]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Vesperae solennes de Confessore, K. 339: Laudate Dominum [4:23]
Antonio LOTTI (c.1667-1740)
Crucifixus [3:41]
Eleanor DALEY (b.1955)
Requiem: In Remembrance [2:35]
Stephen CHATMAN (b.1950)
Remember [2:49]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Lux aeterna [3:51]
César FRANK (1822-1890)
Panis angelicus [4:14]
Karina Gauvin (soprano)
Matthew Larkin (organ)
Choir of St John's, Elora/Noel Edison
rec. St John's Church, Elora, Canada, 21-25 January 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557493 [69:17]

Despite the fact that this disc contains a lovely selection of anthems, it is the only recent Naxos release that has failed to impress. From the very start I found this recording too gentle and soft, and rather lethargic – the reverberant and opulent acoustic of St John’s seems to have dampened the choir’s fervour and responsiveness, and militated against a spirited performance. Listen to the glorious Howells Magnificat – although the choir produce a nice sound, with quite good intonation, there is not enough fire, grit and balls – it’s all too floaty and wishy-washy. Although the next work on the disc, Purcell’s O God, Thou art my God has a nice lilting delicacy, it has the same problem of lacking punch and coming across as almost apathetic.
Karina Gauvin, the soprano, has a pleasant voice – quite pretty, with a bright tone and nice light touch whilst still being robust, rich and mature enough. She actually seems to get the choir going a bit more in Hear my prayer, as if they respond to her dramatics.
Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine comes across as slightly dreary, as if they have taken the soft and gentle air to the music to an extreme – similarly with the otherwise charming Ubi caritas et amor.
My biggest axe to grind, however, is with And I saw a new Heaven. This mini-masterpiece by Bainton is one of the greatest, most visionary anthems ever composed, and yet here it is transformed into a boring, bland expression of lethargy – especially the glorious “Behold!” - surely one of the most revelatory imperatives in religious music and yet they sing it without any spark of passion or inspiration whatsoever – none of the awe that this piece is so due.
I felt that the Lux aeternam was not up to scratch, either. I had not previously encountered this setting of the text to Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations, and was not entirely convinced by it – despite the fact that Elgar himself used the Nimrod theme in Music-Makers. The music comes across as stodgy and lumpy, and the intonation is not as secure as it should be. The sopranos struggle on the higher notes, as if too high for them to manage - their voices are strained, and not smooth at the top – forgivable, perhaps, in a live performance, but a problem that should have been rectified on disc.
On the positive side, I thought that Laudate Dominum was quite nicely done, and Chatman’s Remember is given an aptly tender performance.
On the whole, I was disappointed with this disc. It seems that the choir sang all the anthems exactly the same, with no feeling or emotion, all rather lacklustre. I wasn’t always certain about the intonation, and found the words inaudible. The Organ Choir of St John's, Elora are better at the gentler numbers. They do these quite well, with plenty of soft tenderness, but they don’t bring any fire or power to the dramatic, revelatory anthems. They come across as too sanctimonious, as if restrained by the acoustic and surrounding. I must make the point that this disc isn’t actually bad as such – much of the problem could lie with the stifling acoustics - it sounds as if they’ve all been embalmed or wrapped in cotton wool. The lack of immediacy in the recording produces muffled results and this is not a disc that I can easily recommend.

Em Marshall

Michael Cookson found more room for enthusiasm ... see his review



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