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Sir William Henry HARRIS (1883-1973)
O hearken thou [2:32]
Strengthen ye the weak hands [7:47]
Faire is the heav'n [5:47]
Love of love [5:43]
King of glory [5:24]
Praise the Lord [10:30]
The night is come [10:23]
The shepherd-men [2:50]
O joyful light [4:45]
From a heart made whole [3:23]
I said to the man [2:20]
Bring us, O Lord God [4:24]
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 [65:36]

 


William Henry Harris was born into musical family in 1883. He entered the Royal College of Music at the age of sixteen, by which time he had already obtained his FRCO. He studied the organ under Sir Walter Parratt, the organist of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, and was encouraged to compose by Stanford, Charles Wood and Walford Davies. After doing some occasional teaching at Birmingham thanks to Bantock, he was appointed to New College, Oxford, and later moved to Christ Church. He held his subsequent position at St George’s Chapel for nearly three decades, whilst retaining a Professorship of Organ and Harmony at the Royal College of Music. He composed primarily choir and organ music, although he wrote some larger pieces for Three Choirs Festival and also had a couple of premieres at the BBC Proms.

Harris was interested in Tudor music, like his friend Vaughan Williams, and also in poets of that period – he therefore set John Donne, Edmund Spenser, George Herbert  and Sir William Browne, represented here by Bring us, O Lord God, Faire is the heav’n, King of Glory and The Night is Come respectively. He was a composer who valued the communication of his carefully chosen texts very highly and took pains to ensure that the music illuminated, and never obscured, the words.

The disc opens with the Offertorium O hearken thou, which was composed as the opening piece for the Communion Service of the Coronation of George VI. It is followed by the glorious Strengthen ye the weak hands, an extended and accompanied anthem, with texts from three different sources – Ecclesiasticus, Isaiah and the Book of Common Prayer. It was composed for the Commemoration of the Science and Art of Healing and first performed at the Canterbury Festival in 1949. 

Other works on the disc include the ensuing Faire is the heav'n - one of Harris’s best known works, written in 1925 and dedicated to Sir Hugh Allen, Harris’s predecessor at New College; the beautiful and revelatory hymn King of glory; the wonderfully serene carol The shepherd-men, and the motet Love of love. The latter sets words by the poet Robert Bridges, who had died five years previously. It was composed in his memory and dedicated to Bridge’s wife. The evening hymn O joyful light is also worth a listen - the words are drawn from an anonymous seventh-century Greek text, and the work opens with a plainchant effect. The influence of Eastern Orthodox Church music is a pleasing, but never dominating, element in this powerful piece. 

The works on this disc are all exquisitely crafted, passionate and innovative. They include some gorgeous harmonies and, whilst the overall effect is fairly traditional English church music, some intensifying discordances (as in From a heart made whole) add to the interest of the music. Not surprisingly, the Choir of St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle – Harris’s own chapel – pull out all the stops to make the performances of high quality, and the singing and playing from organist Roger Judd are excellent. A wonderful disc. 

Em Marshall

See also Reviews by William Kreindler and Robert Hugill


 


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