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Samuel Sebastian WESLEY (1810-1876)
Anthems

Ascribe unto the Lord (1851) [12:57]
O give thanks unto the Lord [8:02]
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace (c.1850) [4:06]
Wash me thoroughly (c.1840) [4:20]
O God, whose nature (1831 revised 1870) [3:08]
Let us lift up our heart (c.1839) [18:35]
Blessed be the God and Father (c.1835) [7:05]
Cast me not away from Thy presence (1848) [4:28]
The Wilderness (1832) [12:22]
Choir of Clare College Cambridge/Christopher Robinson
James McVinnie (organ)
rec. St Michael’s Church, Tenbury, July 2006
NAXOS 8.570318 [75:14]



This is a first class tonic. The Choir of Clare College Cambridge now consists of women and includes ten sopranos. To ensure uniform vocal quality counter-tenors are combined with the (female) altos and this makes for a satisfying, full and rich sound. Traditionalists may miss the flutier and purer treble sound but I can certainly say that it didn’t concern me.
 
Many of these anthems are staples of the repertoire and though other recordings offer fluent and well-balanced recitals this one offers not only blended singing but also excellent solos, sensitive organ contributions and a vividly lively approach to the anthems. Ascribe unto the Lord for example is a relatively long and involved setting which can fragment when not controlled. Here it anything but fragments. Note too Wesley’s naughty Handelian borrowings; the lines “The Lord hath been mindful of us” is set to one of Handel’s Op.1 Violin Sonatas, itself probably a self-borrowing.
 
I mentioned the fine solo singing. There’s an example of that quality in O give thanks unto the Lord with its powerful aria-like purpose and lyric gifts. It’s invidious to mention individual choir members, because three take outstanding solos, but I shall add that the soprano here is Philippa Boyle. Don’t overlook, amidst my comments regarding Christopher Robinson’s energetic and forward-moving direction, that the choir can sing very softly and with great precision – this anthem in particular ends with a most deft example of control.
 
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace is a compact and beautifully eloquent piece and receives an appropriately beautiful reading. Readers will want to know that Let us lift up our heart – that big and involving setting with an important role for baritone George Humphreys in Thou, O Lord God – reprises the same qualities of sensitivity and power that inform the entire selection. The contrast between full and women’s voices in the central section of The Wilderness is splendidly realised. In fact the performances are uniformly excellent throughout. 
 
St Michael’s Church, Tenbury has an intimate acoustic – lines aren’t smudged or lost as they might be in a bigger and more resonant building ensuring that the setting is appropriate for these anthems. The booklet includes full texts and enjoyable notes. I’ll end as I began and call this a real tonic.
 
Jonathan Woolf
 



 


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