The boy trebles
at a Cathedral like St. Paul’s have a very active musical life.
In addition to the normal round of services sung with adult
altos, tenors and basses, there are also occasions when the
trebles perform on their own. To this end, the choir has built
up a repertoire of suitable pieces for trebles alone.
1996 recording, with the choir directed by John Scott, displays
the trebles in a programme of pieces either specially written
for treble voices or arranged from other material. The result
is a programme that is most definitely about the treble voice.
might not always like all of the material on the disc and, more
importantly, the various arrangements might not appeal, but
there is no denying the superb quality of the treble voices.
opening number, the Pie Jesu from Faure’s Requiem,
is beautifully sung by soloist Anthony Way. I found it a little
slow for my taste, but as an example of the art of the treble
this could not be better. But you have to wait for the second
track for the whole choir to sing. When they do, the results
are spectacular, a fine sense of line, firm vocal tone and superb
diction all combined into a thrilling whole.
when singing John Rutter’s For
the beauty of the Earth,
you feel that this superb diction and disciplined line is not
quite what this rather pop-inspired sacred song needs. Rutter’s
piece is undeniably beautiful, but as sung here it rather outstays
its welcome and you feel there is the nicest possible mismatch
between the performers and their music
Parry’s ‘Long since
Egypt’s plenteous Land’
from Judith was
a bit of a surprise. The melody was adapted to become the hymn
tune Repton (‘Dear Lord and father of mankind’). As sung here, the original works very well but does
slightly try the patience.
Call’ from Vaughan Williams’s Five Mystical Songs is
another surprisingly effective piece, with a lovely solo from
treble Philip Martin. I felt that ‘The Lost Chord’ was
performed too slowly, but John Scott’s arrangement of Sullivan’s
popular song was ultimately very effective.
Oliver’s ‘How blest
are they’ was used in the RSC’s production of ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ but it works very well on its own. It is not as immediately appealing
as the Rutter piece, but I think that ultimately it is a subtler
piece and is far more suited to the chorister’s style of singing.
Handelian pastiche is followed by some real Handel, ‘Let the bright Seraphim’ from Samson
with the whole choir
singing the solo part. Inevitably the speed is a little slower
than I would like, but the choristers’ achievement is remarkable.
next group of pieces is possibly the most successful on the
disc. All are either folksongs or folksong-like pieces. They
are performed in straightforward arrangements which show off
the choir’s sense of line and superb diction. John Scott’s arrangement
of ‘The Ash Grove’ is a prime example of this artless pleasure. But equally
successful are Gordon Jacob’s version of ‘The Lord’s my Shepherd’ using the tune Brother James’s air, Julius
Harrison’s rather lush arrangement of Vaughan Williams’s ‘Linden Lea’
and John Scott’s reworking of ‘Annie
CD’s title track, ‘How can I keep from singing’ belongs
to the same category though it was unfamiliar to me. The words
and music are by the 19th century American divine
‘Lift thine eyes’ from Mendelssohn’s Elijah the whole choir sings
the trio and the recording utilises the acoustic of St. Paul’s
to magical effect.
Blatchly’s ‘For the
Fallen’ is a setting of Laurence Binyon’s words, which are
read at the Remembrance Day commemorations. Blatchly’s piece
was written for the St. Paul’s choristers. But though I felt
that it was appealing, it seemed to be straining for a meaningfulness
that it does not quite achieve. The final piece on the disc
is more Rutter, this time his attractive little Gaelic Blessing.
disc was produced partly in order to benefit the St. Paul’s Choir
School Foundation, which receives a royalty for each copy sold.
So if you are interested in hearing some superb singing from one
of the finest groups of trebles in the UK, then this disc is for
you, as long as you don’t worry too much about the repertoire.