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Heaven and Earth are full of thy Glory - Music for Holy Communion
Basil HARWOOD (1859-1949)
Communion Service in A Flat major (1892) [9:44]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Communion Service in C major (1913. Kyrie 1941) [14:09]
Charles WOOD (1866-1926)
Short Communion Service in The Phrygian Mode (1919) [9:21]
Harold DARKE (1888-1976)
Communion Service in F major (1926) [12:47]
George OLDROYD (1893-1958)
Mass of the Quiet Hour (1928) [9:54]
Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988)
Missa Brevis (1968) [12:20]
Wakefield Cathedral Choir/Jonathan Bielby,
Keith Wright (organ)
rec. 26-28 June 1990, Wakefield Cathedral, Yorkshire, England. DDD
PRIORY RECORDS PRCD5030 [69:53]
Experience Classicsonline


The Priory label is a noted champion of recorded choral and organ music. This release of performances from Wakefield Cathedral in 1990 forms an attractive disc of Music for Holy Communion from six English-based composers.
 
The first work is by Basil Harwood an organist and composer who was born in Gloucester in 1859. A Charterhouse pupil Harwood studied at Trinity College, Oxford before travelling to the Leipzig Conservatory for lessons from Carl Reinecke and Salomon Jadassohn. In 1883 Harwood was appointed organist at St. Barnabas Church, Pimlico, London, then at Ely Cathedral in 1887 before finally settling as organist at Christ Church, Oxford between 1892-1909.
 
The earliest composed score on the disc, the Communion Service in A Flat major was composed by Harwood in 1892. One is immediately struck by the generally exalted nature of this highly efficiently rendered Service. The Gloria is primarily contemplative with a powerful Sanctus and a moving Benedictus. Light and reverential the Agnus Dei gently fades away with significant intimacy.
 
The Cheshire-born composer John Ireland entered the Royal College of Music (RCM) in 1893 studying with Sir Charles Stanford and Sir Walter Parratt. Ireland became the youngest ever Fellow of the Royal College of Organists and served as assistant organist at Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Street in London. He taught composition at the RCM from 1923-1939; his most notable pupils being Benjamin Britten and E.J. Moeran with several others including Richard Arnell, Alan Bush and Humphrey Searle achieving a degree of success. From 1904 Ireland was appointed organist and choirmaster at St Luke’s Church in Chelsea, London where he served for twenty-two years.
 
Composing a considerable amount of sacred music throughout his career Ireland wrote his Communion Service in C major in 1913 with the gentle Kyrie that opens the score added later in 1941. Ireland dedicated his Communion Service to his vicar and choir at St Luke’s Church in Chelsea. A highlight is the opening Gloria containing drama and passion and one is aware how the solo voices add to the variety of the attractive Creed. The Sanctus and Benedictus movement is indelibly poignant with colourful textures. Controlled and gently expressive the closing Agnus Dei is interpreted with assurance by this strong and disciplined choir. 
 
Armagh-born in 1883 Charles Wood became one of the inaugural class of fifty students at the newly instituted RCM. There he studied with professors Stanford and Parry. In 1883 Wood was awarded an organ scholarship to Selwyn College, Cambridge later transferring across the city to Gonville and Caius College. Appointed as a teacher at the RCM in 1888 Wood the next year became a lecturer at Caius College. For several years he served as assistant conductor to Stanford with the Cambridge University Musical Society. After Stanford’s death in 1824 Wood was appointed as professor of music at Cambridge serving in the role for only two years until his death in 1926. In a respected teaching career Wood’s most notable pupils were Ralph Vaughan Williams and Herbert Howells.
 
Wood composed prolifically in many genres but is principally recognised today as a composer of sacred music for the Anglican church. The Short Communion Service in The Phrygian Mode for unaccompanied choir was composed by Wood in 1919. Sung with remarkable intimacy and exquisite diction the Short Service is an essentially contemplative and deeply spiritual work. One notices the general lack of sharp or harshly dynamic and rhythmic contrasts.
 
Harold Darke was born in London in 1888. When aged only fourteen he entered the RCM studying with Stanford and Parratt for seven years. Darke in 1906 was appointed as organist at the Emmanuel Church in West Hampstead, London subsequently moving across the city to serve at St. James Church, Paddington and then from 1916 to St Michael’s Church, Cornhill, in the City of London. At St. Michael’s, Cornhill, Darke achieved recognition for his Monday lunchtime recitals of which more than 1,800 were given over his remarkable fifty tenure. In 1941 Darke was appointment organist of King’s College, Cambridge temporarily during Boris Ord’s absence on war service. Appointed to professor at the RCM, he achieved a remarkable tenure of over sixty years.

From Darke’s relatively small output his Communion Service in F major was composed in 1926 for St Michael’s. The Service is regarded as one of the finest settings by an English composer in the twentieth century. With dignified singing of admirable unison throughout the Gloria is a robust and dramatic supplication for God’s mercy. The Creed is expressive, containing significant variety and the two final movements the Sanctus and Benedictus and the closing Agnus Dei are beautiful and intimate expressions of faith.
 
The English-born organist and composer George Oldroyd from 1919 became organist at the Holborn, St. Alban’s Church in London. A year later Oldroyd was appointed to St. Michael’s Church in Croydon where he served as organist until his death in 1956.  
 
Of the several masses that Oldroyd composed he is best remembered today for his Mass of the Quiet Hour from 1928. The work was dedicated to Cosmo Gordon Lang who later became Archbishop of Canterbury. The opening Kyrie has a splendid and lofty sense of expression and the refined singing of the Gloria is splendidly conveyed. I enjoyed the smooth and atmospheric quality to the Sanctus and Benedictus movement and the assured vocal writing of the closing Agnus Dei educes outstanding choral singing with expressively sympathetic solo contributions. 
 
The disc closes with Kenneth Leighton’s Missa Brevis (1968). Leighton was a prolific composer of over a hundred published works. Born in Wakefield, England in 1947 Leighton started his music career as a chorister at Wakefield Cathedral. He won a scholarship to Queen’s College, Oxford graduating in 1951 having studied with Bernard Rose. The same year he won a Mendelssohn Scholarship and studied in Rome with Goffredo Petrassi. In 1952 Leighton became a professor at the Royal Marine School of Music and a Gregory Music Fellow at Leeds University in 1953-56. In 1956 he lectured in Music at the Edinburgh University returning in 1968 to Oxford at Worcester College. Leighton was in 1970 appointed to the prestigious post of Reid Professor of Music at Edinburgh University holding the position until his death.
 
Leighton’s Missa Brevis from 1968 was written for Liverpool Cathedral. As the most recently composed score on the disc it has, not surprisingly, a contemporary sacred feel. The opening Kyrie has a broad dynamic and is elegant with a hint of mystery, splendidly conveyed with incandescent singing. Adventurously challenging sacred writing in the Gloria in which the poised choir could hardly be more impressive. I was struck by the controlled and passionate incisiveness of the Sanctus and Benedictus movement. At times in the closing movement Agnus Dei I sensed an atmospheric sound-world similar to that of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. This is expressive music that conveys a strong sense of eternity. I was surprised that the ecstatic choral climax that I was expecting never happened.
 
Jonathan Bielby and his splendid Wakefield Cathedral Choir may never make a better recording, transporting the listener with them in this beautiful sacred music. The splendid choir is fresh-voiced, conveying an appropriate degree of reverence combined with a moving touch of vulnerability. There are occasional moments where individual voices are prominent at the expense of choral unison but this is only a minor observation that never detracts from the enjoyment.
 
The acoustic at Wakefield Cathedral is coolly atmospheric with vividly clear words. Keith Wright is a sympathetic organist who is never obtrusive. On the downside, I found the essay in the booklet disjointed and largely unhelpful. This is a most attractive and welcome release.
 
Michael Cookson
 
Notes:
For those wanting to explore further this rewarding repertoire of English sacred music I can highly recommend a superbly performed compilation of scores from Sir Charles Stanford; the father of English Choral Music. The Decca disc (on The British Music Collection Decca 470 384-2) features a intensely moving performance of the masterly part-song The Bluebird, Op.119, No.3/8 (1910) performed by the Choir of New College Oxford conducted by Edward Higginbottom that was recorded at New College Chapel, Oxford in 2000. The other works on the disc are performed by a variety of splendid singers such as: baritone Thomas Allen; the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge; contralto Kathleen Ferrier et al: Beata quorum via, Op.38 No.3 (1890); Songs of the Sea, Op.91 (1904); Te Deum laudamus; Magnificat in B flat; Nunc dimittis in B flat; Magnificat in G; Nunc dimittis in G; O sing unto the Lord a new song (psalm 96); O praise God in His holiness (psalm 150); Agnus dei; The Fairy Lough, Op. 77, No. 2 (1900) and A Soft Day, Op. 140, No. 3 (1913).
 
Another highly recommendable Stanford disc is Anthems and Services for the Naxos label. Here the impeccable Choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge under the direction of Christopher Robinson recorded the disc in 2002 at St. John’s Chapel, Cambridge on Naxos 8.555794.

This Naxos English Choral Music series that includes the above Stanford release of Anthems and Services has been widely acclaimed and includes a number of additional high recommendable discs of sacred music:

Berkeley
Crux Fidelis; Missa Brevis; 3 Latin Motets; A Festival Anthem on 8.557277; Britten Rejoice in the Lamb; Hymn to St. Cecilia; Missa Brevis Op. 63 etc. on 8.554791; Elgar Ave Maria; Give unto the Lord; Te Deum; Benedictus, Op. 34 etc. on 8.557288 (see reviews)

Finzi
Lo, the Full, Final Sacrifice; My Lovely One; Magnificat; 7Unaccompanied Partsongs, Op. 17 on 8.555792 (see review)

Howells
Requiem; Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing; Magnificat and Nunc dimitis, St. Paul's; Like as the Hart; Long, Long Ago; Office of Holy Communion (Collegium Regale); Rhapsody No. 3 for Organ on 8.554659

Leighton
Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis Collegium Magdalene Oxoniense; Crucifixus Pro Nobis; Veni creator spiritus; What love is this of thine?; Rockingham: Chorale Prelude on When I survey the wondrous Cross; Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (The Second Service), Op. 62 on 8.555795 (see review)

Rubbra
Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in A flat major, Op. 65; Missa Cantuariensis, Op. 59; Missa in honorem Sancti Dominici, Op. 66; Tenebrae Motets, Op. 72 on 8.555255 (see reviews)

Tavener
Song for Athene; Svyati; Song for Athene; The Tiger; The Lamb; Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis; Funeral Ikos; Two Hymns to the Mother of God; Love bade me welcome; As one who has slept; The Lord's Prayer on 8.555256 (see review)

Walton
The Twelve; Coronation Te Deum; Missa Brevis; Set me as a seal upon thine heart; Henry V: Passacaglia Death of Falstaff& Touch her soft lips and part; Cantico del Sole; A Litany: Drop, drop slow tears; Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis; Where does the uttered music go?; Jubilate Deo; Cantico del Sole on 8.555793 (see review)


 


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