excellent idea behind this CD, previously issued on Hyperion's
full-price label as CDA67076, is to celebrate the achievements
of the famous Glasgow Orpheus Choir and their long-serving
conductor, Sir Hugh Roberton.
choir was originally attached to a working men's club and
Roberton, a funeral director and self-taught musician, became
its conductor in 1901. Five years later, in 1906, the choir
became independent of the club, assumed the name Glasgow
Orpheus Choir, and gradually built a formidable reputation
as one of Britain's premier choirs, until it gave its final
concert in 1951, the year before Roberton's death. The items
in this programme have been selected to give a flavour of
the choir's repertoire and, as Kenneth Roberton puts it in
his liner note the programme "comprises choral pieces
imperishably associated with it." I'm not entirely sure if Vaughan
Williams' masterly Three
Shakespeare Songs were in the choir's repertoire. If
they were they just squeaked in since they were only published
in 1951 and the choir's final Glasgow concert took place
in April that year.
I have a criticism of the programme it lies in the selection
of the opening group of traditional items, which comprise
ten of the first eleven tracks. These pieces are predominantly
slow in tempo and it's not until track five that we get a
quick piece; and then it's the toe-curlingly twee The
Wee Cooper o'Fife. A more varied mix of songs would not
have been amiss. That said, there are some lovely things
in the selection, including Roberton's own All in the
April evening which, we are told, became the choir's
signature tune - just as Crimond, then almost totally
neglected, became their habitual closing item. Two of the
finest of the traditional numbers are the arrangements by
Vaughan Williams, the gently haunting Ca' the yowes and
the equally haunting and exquisite The Turtle Dove.
Both receive ravishing performances here.
Towards the end of this programme Michael Brewer treats us to a
marvellous selection of the very finest of English part songs - I hope
the Irishman, Stanford, will forgive me for referring to
his sublime The Blue Bird as 'English'. Perhaps I'll
be forgiven if I add hastily that for my money it's one of
the very finest part songs in the English language and here
it receives a marvellous performance in which soprano Bryony
Lang distinguishes herself through the lovely pure tone in
which she sings the cruelly exposed solo line. The two Elgar
items are very well done and Michael Brewer takes My love
dwelt in a northern land at a slightly more flowing tempo
than one sometimes hears, greatly to the music's advantage.
I also much admired the clarity of texture that Brewer and his
singers bring to Parry's wonderful Never weather-beaten
sail. And full marks to them also for a wonderful
rendition of Vaughan Williams' inspired set of Three Shakespeare
Songs. These are magical pieces and Laudibus do them
full justice, not least the grave beauty of the second song,
cloud-capp'd towers'. Sir Arthur Sullivan wins his place
in this distinguished company too. The words of The long
day closes may jar somewhat to our twenty-first century
ears- but, then, the same could be said of the text that
Elgar sets in My love dwelt in a northern land. However,
Sullivan's part-writing and simple melodic inspiration disarms
criticism and one is glad to find this song closing the programme.
From my earlier comments you will have probably gathered that
the singing of Laudibus is quite splendid throughout the
programme. Of course, this is a smaller choir that the one that
Roberton directed - it comprises seven sopranos, four
altos and five each of tenor and basses. They sing with freshness
and clarity and Michael Brewer has made them into a flexible,
well-balanced group. The singing gave me considerable pleasure.
Hyperion recorded them in a very suitable acoustic, which
has just the right amount of resonance and reverberation.
texts are provided and the good notes are by Kenneth Roberton.
I wonder if he is a descendant of the Orpheus Choir's distinguished
As a tribute to Sir Hugh Roberton and his legendary choir this
CD succeeds splendidly but it is also a skilfully executed
programme that will give great pleasure in its own right.