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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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Choral Evensong Live from King’s College, Cambridge
Chapel Bell and Entrance of Congregation [0:42]
Herbert HOWELLS (1897-1962) Organ Voluntary: Psalm-Prelude in D Minor Op.32 No.1 [6:11]
Henry George LEY (1887-1962) Introit: A Prayer of King Henry VI [1:46] 
Sentence [0:13] 
Bidding Prayer [0:43]
General Confession and Absolution [1:24]
The Lord’s Prayer [0:42]
Philip RADCLIFFE (1903-86) Versicles and Responses [1:19]
Richard WOODWARD (?1743-77), Henry Thomas SMART (1813-79) and Luke FLINTOFT (c.1680-1727) Psalm 89 [10:38]
First Lesson: Deuteronomy 34:1-12 [1:02]
Herbert HOWELLS Magnificat (Gloucester Service) [6:46]
Second Lesson: Luke 24:13-35 [4:23]
Herbert HOWELLS Nunc Dimittis (Gloucester Service) [4:35]
Creed [1:06]
Philip RADCLIFFE Versicles and Responses [3:28]
Collect of the Day (Trinity VI) [0:39]
Second Collect [0:31]
Third Collect [0:53]
Hubert PARRY (1848-1918) Anthem: Lord, Let Me Know Mine End (Songs of Farewell) [10:06]
Reading from Benjamin Whychcote, mid-17th-Century Provost of King’s College [1:06]
Prayer of Whychcote [1:13]
Prayer of King Henry VI, Founder of King’s College [0:23]
Grace [0:14]
John GOSS (1800-80) Hymn: Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven [3:26]
Edward NAYLOR (1867-1934) Final Responses [3:26]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) Organ Voluntary: First Movement of Sonata in G, Op.28 [9:33]
The Reverend John Drury (Dean); The Reverend Stephen Cherry (Chaplain);
Christopher Hughes (organ scholar);
Choir of King’s College, Cambridge/Stephen Cleobury
rec. 24-26 July 1991, Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge.  DDD.
EMI CLASSICS ENCORE 2081162
[76:29] 

 

Experience Classicsonline


This CD should find a ready market among the thousands who listen to Choral Evensong on BBC Radio 3, currently broadcast on Wednesday afternoons with a repeat the following Sunday afternoon.  And, though it grieves me to admit it, as an alumnus of the ‘other place’, King’s is the pre-eminent home of Choral Evensong.  After all, the Mattins and Evensong of the Book of Common Prayer were fabricated at the reformation by a
Cambridge scholar, Thomas Cranmer, the former from Matins and Lauds, the latter from Vespers and Compline.  Though there are other fine recordings of Choral Evensong on the market, therefore, this is the real thing, not a liturgical reconstruction in the manner of Paul McCreesh. 

This is not a service for a special occasion – it’s for one of those rather boring Sundays after Trinity, sometimes known as ‘normal time’, when the liturgical colour is green.  Nor is it strictly true to call it live, since on only one of the three days in July, 1991, when the recording was made was a congregation present.  Also, at 76:29 it’s rather longer than the usual time of slightly less than an hour, partly accounted for by our hearing the organ prelude and postlude in full.  Nevertheless, it is pretty representative of Evensong at its best; the only ingredient that is missing is the Office Hymn. 

Several of the major names in Anglican music are here.  The prelude is provided by Herbert Howells, whose Gloucester Service also provides the canticles, Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, which are at the heart of the service.  Both of these fully deserve a place among the treasures of the repertoire alongside the music of Parry and Stanford of the older generation.  The Nunc Dimittis, in particular, strikes just the right balance between the thoughtful tone of Simeon’s valediction and his prediction that Jesus will be the light of the world. 

We are beginning to rediscover the work of Parry, whose Songs of Farewell furnish the anthem here, and Stanford, especially their symphonies.  Herbert Howells has yet to be fully rediscovered, but there are some fine recordings of his music, not just the choral works, though there are some excellent anthologies of these on Naxos (8.554659, St John’s, Cambridge) and Hyperion (CDA67494 Wells Cathedral –a Musicweb recording of the Month – see John Quinn’s review).  His Third String Quartet (subtitled In Gloucestershire) is one of my personal favourites, coupled with music by his contemporary George Dyson on a super-budget Hyperion Helios CD (CDH55045).  I see that John France liked this CD as much as I do – see his review. 

The anthem is another peculiarly Anglican tradition.  At the end of Compline it became the practice in the late Middle Ages to sing one of the four antiphons – anthems in English – of the Virgin Mary, depending on the season of the church’s year.  When, after 1549, it became Anglican practice to reverence the saints and seek to follow their example, chiefly that of Mary and the apostles, rather than to pray to them, these antiphons became obsolete, though the Prayer Book continued to require at the end of Mattins and Evensong that ‘In Quires and places where they sing, here followeth the anthem’. 

It thus became incumbent on composers, following the reintroduction of the Prayer Book in 1559, to provide suitable music for the occasion and there has been a steady stream of such compositions from Elizabethan times onwards.  The anthem here, Parry’s Lord, let me know mine end, was not written expressly for the purpose, but it fills the position very well.  To the best of my knowledge, the Songs of Farewell have not been recorded complete, but if the music appeals, there is an excellent collection of Parry’s Evensong music, including the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis – both well worth hearing – on Hyperion (CDA66273, St George’s, Windsor). 

There are some much less well-known composers here, too.  Henry Ley’s setting of the prayer of Henry VI, the royal founder of the college and its sister foundation at Eton, is used as the introit.  That this introit is somewhat sub-fusc is appropriate to the occasion: for major festivals like Easter or Ascension Day, you’d expect – and usually get – something much more adventurous. 

The versicles are, as usual, chanted and Philips Radcliffe’s settings of the answering responses at the beginning and middle of the service are employed.  These are perhaps slightly more adventurous than some traditional settings but fully within the English tradition. 

The psalm, number 89, is that appointed in the Prayer Book for the evening of the 17th day of the month, according to the monthly cycle laid down from 1549 onwards.  The translation is that of the Coverdale Bible, a peculiar hybrid version based on Luther’s German and the Latin Vulgate – in 1662, it should have been replaced by the more accurate Authorised Version, like the Epistles and Gospels, but it had become so much a part of the fabric that it was retained. 

The psalm is chanted according to that peculiar format known as Anglican Chant – its history is too complex to describe here, but it is related to the common 16th-century practice known as fauxbourdon or falsibordone.  It’s easily mastered and it can, at its best, sound very attractive – the likes of Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata are sometimes adapted as chant, for example.  You probably haven’t heard of any of the three composers credited with this setting – nor had I – but, like Radcliffe’s more recent settings of the responses, the music is both attractive and very firmly within the tradition: you wouldn’t hear anything like it in a Roman Catholic or Lutheran church. 

The drawback with Anglican chant is that it tends to be rather same-y, whether the words are joyful, as here, or penitential.  You don’t get much sense that the choir are singing such words as “O Lord, the very heavens shall praise thy wondrous works : and thy truth in the congregation of the saints”. 

Evensong is, of course, much more than an occasion for hearing fine music.  The service opens with the exhortation, confession and absolution in their full 1662 Prayer Book forms, rather than in the shorter versions common since 1928.  In their full form they are relics of the reformation tradition of fulsome public rather than private confession – the original Lutheran practice being to persuade the sinful to stand up and confess at the main Sunday service, the Hauptgottesdienst.  If you find this, the recitation of the Apostles’ Creed and the chanting of the collects and other prayers intrusive, this recording is not for you, since these take up almost half the CD. 

If, on the other hand, you feel the urge to join in, you can sing along to the well-known final hymn. 

Elgar, though himself a devout Roman Catholic, is also central to Anglican music and his Sonata in G provides an excellent rousing postlude to round off a very satisfactory recording.  Like the prelude, it receives a good performance from the Organ Scholar of the day. 

It goes without saying that the singing is superb: Stephen Cleobury and the choir could probably sing Evensong in their sleep, but they are certainly wide awake here.  I’m not sure which items were re-done on subsequent days – indeed, I’m surprised that it proved necessary: perhaps it was done more for the benefit of the recording engineers, for whom live recording in King’s can be a nightmare, especially in the case of the Christmas Eve Nine Lessons and Carols, which are broadcast world-wide. 

The recording is good, but you will need to turn up the wick somewhat for the best effect – I found another 5dB barely sufficient.  The two biblical lessons, in particular, sound very distant – but that is how they would sound to a congregation in the body of the chapel – its acoustics are notoriously difficult. 

The booklet is informative – more so than most in the Encore series – and attractive.  To those for whom the idea is appealing, this recording may be confidently recommended.  I can’t give a bracketed thumbs-up – if it’s not for you, you’ll know anyway that the accolade is provisional on your liking the contents – what it says on the label is what you get.

Brian Wilson

 


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