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