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William Henry HARRIS (1883-1973)
Choral Music
O Hearken Thou (1937) [2:32]
Strengthen ye the weak hands (1949) [7:47]
Faire is the heav’n (1925) [5:47]
Love of love (1935) [5:23]
King of Glory (1925) [5:24]
Praise the Lord (1938) [10:30]
The night is come (1961) [10:23]
The shepherd-men (1933) [2:50]
O joyful night (1939) [4:45]
From a heart made whole (1936) [3:23]
I said to the man (1969) [2:20]
Bring us, O Lord God (1955) [4:24]
The Choir of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle/Timothy Byram-Wigfield
Roger Judd (organ)
rec. St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, 23-25 January 2006
NAXOS 8.570148 [65:45]

 


Sir William Henry Harris is best known for his Faire is the Heaven, one of the foremost of 20th century anthems and also for his Bring us, O Lord God and Strengthen ye the weak hands. There are also numerous other choral and organ works.

Sir William served in a number of posts before settling in 1933 at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor where he was in charge for almost three decades. This disc is the latest in the Naxos English Choral Music series and was recorded at St. George’s Chapel with the present Director, Timothy Byram-Wigfield, and the estimable Roger Judd as organist.

In addition to the three well-known works mentioned above this disc includes six of the lesser-known ones and three others which have never been recorded. The first of these, The Shepherd-Men is a simple carol and proves that the composer - known to his choristers as Doc H - is quite a change from the eight-part complicated works with which “Doc H” is associated. The text of I said to the man is remembered for its use by George VI in his 1939 Christmas broadcast. Harris sets the text in an unusual, awkward style that  at first seems inappropriate to the poem but shows the composer in his late-eighties still experimenting. Also unusual for Harris is his setting of Swinburne’s From a Heart Made Whole, which seems never to settle into its home-key of G-major or any other. While I found all of these works interesting their first appearance on disc may owe something to the fact that none of them is typical Harris.

Of the other, better-known pieces, the best performances are towards the end of the disc. The torturous and rather strange From a heart made whole is given an extremely convincing performance, as is the famous Bring us, O Lord God. Here the middle voices sing with total control and beautiful blend. Byram-Wigfield leads the choir to an intense coda in the latter that is the highpoint of the disc. The Greek Orthodox inspired O joyful light is sung a little slowly for my taste, but the overall conception is imaginative. Unfortunately the acoustic breaks up right before the end. This happens with two or three other pieces as well. Another problem is that the conductor takes O hearken thou and Strengthen ye the weak hands at a rather plodding pace which makes for stateliness but not excitement. Better led are King of glory, which evolves beautifully and Love of Love, with a well-performed end.

Overall this is a successful disc, though with the conducting caveats mentioned above. While there are many recordings of individual Harris anthems, the only competition for a complete Harris disc is that of the Exon Singers on ASV 1015 from 1997. About half the anthems on the Naxos disc are replicated here, although obviously none of the first time recordings. The Exon Singers disc also has several of Harris’s best organ works and the acoustic of the Tonbridge School Chapel is less intrusive than that prevailing in St. George’s Chapel. On the other hand the Naxos disc features the choir and location for which these pieces were written and is sung more idiomatically, if less excitingly than by Exon. In addition it has the imaginative and fluent playing of Roger Judd, long-time soloist of Saint George’s Chapel and a powerful musical entity in his own right. So, to recommend a single Harris disc is difficult. It is probably best to get both.

William Kreindler

see also Review by Robert Hugill

 


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