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Hymns from Hereford
John GOSS (1800 - 1880)
Praise my soul the King of heaven [02:43]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750)
Jesu joy of man's desiring [03:10]
Henry George LEY (1887 - 1962)
The strife is o'er [02:46]
Thomas John WILLIAMS (1869 - 1944)
O the deep deep love of Jesus [03:42]
William Henry HARRIS (1883 - 1973)
Come down o love divine [03:55]
Clement Cotterill SCHOLEFIELD (1839 - 1904)
The day thou gavest Lord is ended [03:36]
William Penfro ROWLANDS (1860 - 1937)
Love divine all love excelling [03:55]
George James WEBB (1803 - 1887)
Stand up stand up for Jesus [03:02]
Samuel Sebastian WESLEY (1810 - 1876)
O thou who camest from above [02:57]
trad
Come sing the praise of Jesus (Battle Hymn) [03:34]
Johann Sebastian BACH
Subdue us by thy goodness [02:31]
trad, arr Edward MILLER  (c1735 - 1807)
When I survey the wondrous cross [03:02]
trad, arr Johann Sebastian BACH
All glory laud and honour [04:58]
William Henry MONK (1823 - 1889)
All things bright and beautiful [03:29]
John STAINER (1840 - 1901)
All for Jesus [02:23]
Peter WARLOCK (1894 - 1930)
Bethlehem down* [03:57]
trad
Saint Joseph's Carol* [04:12]
trad
The Lord at first did Adam make* [02:09]
Hereford Cathedral Choir/Roy Massey
Richard Lloyd*; Robert Green (organ)
rec. no dates given. ADD
GRIFFIN RECORDS GCCD4060
[60:09] 

 

Experience Classicsonline


When as a teenager I was on holiday in England I became acquainted with the phenomenon of choral evensong and with the singing of English college and cathedral choirs in general,. I was captivated by the choirs and their repertoire, and my interest has never diminished. Therefore I am happy to be able to review this disc, even though it is so different from the early music discs I usually write about. An additional incentive to listening to this disc is the fact that one year I was on holiday in precisely the town whose cathedral is the home of this choir. I can't remember the singing of the choir as it was too long ago, but I certainly remember the Mappa Mundi for which the cathedral is famous. And it is nice to hear the choir singing in this cathedral with its long history and long-standing tradition of choral activity.
 

This disc consists of recordings from the pre-digital era which have been digitally remastered. This has been done well, although the analogue recordings have left their mark in the slight noise which accompanies the singing. Unfortunately the booklet doesn't give the dates of the original recordings. The lyrics of all the hymns are printed, but there are many printing errors and omissions. I also had to search on the internet or to look into New Grove for the Christian names of most composers as the booklet fails to provide us with that information.

The Hereford Cathedral Choir is certainly one of the better cathedral choirs in Britain, as this disc demonstrates. I am generally pleased by the singing and the sound the choir produces. I note with satisfaction that the lower male voices are not vibrato-laden as is the case in some other cathedral choirs. When the whole choir sings the sound is pretty strong, but well-balanced and polished. The rather large reverberation of the cathedral has no negative effect on the audibility of the text. 

I have some mixed feelings about the programme on this disc, though. The last three items, which are from a different recording than the previous 15, are the only ones devoted to Christmas. They are a bit out of step with the programme as a whole. The largest part is rather traditional, and there the choir is at its best. I am talking here about hymns like 'Praise my soul the King of heaven' and 'The day thou gavest Lord is ended'. Far less convincing are 'Come sing the praise of Jesus' and 'Stand up, stand up for Jesus' whose melodies are pretty dreadful in my opinion. But they also seem to be rather unsuited to be sung in church, and especially by a choir which is every inch British. The melody of 'Come sing the praise of Jesus' is that of the 'Battle Hymn of the Republic'. Its character is severely damaged in this performance, which is too slow, too neat and too sophisticated. The melody of 'Stand up, stand up for Jesus' was originally used for a secular text. Replacing it by a sacred text was a rather bad idea, and the performance with frequent modulations doesn't make things any better.  British cathedral choirs should avoid this kind of music which is of the same dubious quality as most contemporary revival music which, alas, has made its entrance in many Christian churches. 

Unsatisfying in a different way are the pieces composed or arranged by Bach. Here the instrumental parts are adapted to the organ which is something Bach also did now and then, but English romantic organs are hardly the right tools to play this kind of arrangement. Especially if one has the original versions in one's memory these 'adaptations' are a bit hard to swallow. In 'All glory laud and honour' one section is sung by the trebles only, and here the ornamentation doesn't come off very well. 

To sum up: the singing is mostly impressive and enjoyable, but this choir - and other English cathedral and college choirs - should be more critical in their choice of repertoire. I am convinced their unique qualities come to the fore best when they concentrate on music which in quality and character is appropriate to sing in liturgy.

Johan van Veen


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


 


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