In 1999 these same forces – but with a different organist – made
a CD for Naxos entitled Psalms for the Soul (8.554823).
It was my purchase of that disc that alerted me to the fine choral
work being undertaken in Elora by Noel Edison. Further discs that
he’s made, conducting both this choir and the Elora Festival Singers,
have reinforced that initial favourable impression.
This CD is a follow-up
to Psalms for the Soul and follows the same format in
that the programme consists of several psalms sung to Anglican
chant as well as a number of anthems that take one of the psalms
for their text. I’m glad to note the inclusion of several fine
chants from the Victorian heyday of Anglican chant, with Garrett,
Goss, Smart and others represented to excellent effect.
But that tradition
was still alive and well – indeed, flourishing – in the twentieth
century and the chants to Psalms 121 (Howells), 137 (Noel Edison
himself) and 111 (Matthew Larkin) are all fully respectful of
the tradition yet contrive to speak with a suitably contemporary
voice. I commend in particular Edison’s plangent chant, which
is well suited to the sorrowful mood of Psalm 137 (‘By the waters
of Babylon’). In both these modern chants and in the older
chant settings the pointing and phrasing of the chants sounded
absolutely faithful to the style and idiom. The words are clear
and the harmonies well balanced. My only very slight regret
is that I’d have liked to hear Matthew Larkin, an admirable
organist throughout the programme, occasionally offer just a
bit of decoration or illustration to some psalm verses. On one
occasion he does let himself go, in the last two verses of the
elaborate Bairstow chant: at the words ‘Tremble thou earth at
the presence of the Lord’ Larkin makes the organ thunder beneath
the singers, without overwhelming them, and the effect is thrilling.
is represented by two different types of response to the Psalms.
His double chant for Psalm 121 is quite lovely. I don’t know
when this was written but the words evidently meant quite a
lot to Howells for he included a setting of the same text in
the wonderful Requiem that he composed in the 1930s but
suppressed for many years. And his engagement with this psalm
reached its apogee in his supreme masterpiece, Hymnus Paradisi
(1938), in the fourth movement of which the words of that psalm
are combined with the Sanctus from the Mass in an elaborate
setting. The other Howells selection, O, pray for the
peace of Jerusalem, is the first of five anthems
In Time of War. These anthems, of which Like
as the Hart is another, were all composed in January 1941,
each in a single day. The present piece is a heartfelt, serene
creation and it’s beautifully performed here.
comes in the form of Mathias’s exuberant and rhythmically perky
Let the people praise thee, O God, which was written
in 1981 for the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer.
This Elora performance is delightfully lively, with Matthew
Larkin making an important contribution from the organ loft.
He’s also prominent in Parry’s majestic I was glad, not
least through a sonorous rendition of the introduction. Noel
Edison leads a performance in which the singing is rather more
restrained – though still full-toned – than I’ve sometimes heard
on disc. He’s attentive to the need to provide light and shade
in this work and this is definitely not a “can belto” performance
of the type one sometimes hears. I thought it was refreshing
though I suspect that the full choir is used in the short semi-chorus
section at ‘O, pray for the peace of Jerusalem’ and at this
point I’d have liked the contrast that a smaller group provides.
I must also mention
Bob Chilcott’s My Prayer, which takes just a solitary
verse – the first one – from Psalm 102. It’s more an exploration
of choral textures than anything else with plaintive soprano
solo lines rising out of the body of choral sound from time
to time. As Keith Anderson says in his excellent liner-note,
this effective piece “is a moving petition, an intense meditation
and effective contrast to the more traditional chant here recorded.”
In summary, this
is a fine disc. The singing is excellent throughout. Tuning
and balance leave nothing to be desired and though Naxos provide
the English texts the choir’s diction is so good that one scarcely
needs to refer to the booklet. One small thing puzzles me: the
booklet gives information about the Elora Festival Singers but
I suspect this is a mistake since I understand this to be a
completely separate choir to the one heard to such excellent
effect on this CD, though Noel Edison conducts both. The performances
are captured in truthful, clear yet atmospheric sound. This
disc should be snapped up eagerly by lovers of the music of
the English Church.