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I was Glad
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Give unto the Lord [9:00]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892–1983)
Like as the Hart desireth the Waterbrooks [6:06]
Sir William WALTON (1902–1983)
Jubilate Deo [4:10]
Noel De JONGH (b. 1930)
Two Introits: O Come, Let us Sing unto the Lord [0:46]; Blessed is the Man [1:07]
James MACMILLAN (b. 1959)
A New Song [5:06]
Gustav HOLST (1874–1934)
Psalm 148 [5:00]
Henry PURCELL (1659–1695)
Hear my prayer [2:10]
William BOYCE (1711–1779)
Turn Thee unto me, O Lord [5:05]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Richte mich, Gott [4:08]

Johannes BRAHMS (1833–1897)
How lovely are thy dwellings [5:50]
Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852–1924)
The Lord is my Shepherd [8:31]
Sir Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848–1918)
I was Glad [5:32]
Choir of St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh/Michael Harris
Peter Backhouse (organ)
rec. 19-21 February, 2008, St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh. DDD


Experience Classicsonline

This recital features the musicians of the Presbyterian cathedral in Edinburgh. We are told in the booklet and on the cathedral’s website that the choir comprises thirty adult singers, though thirty-eight are named in the booklet (17 sopranos, 6 female altos, 8 tenors and 7 basses.) I infer from the booklet note that these are not full-time professional singers, though they’re clearly experienced and capable.  The make-up of the choir is relevant, I think, because it seemed to me quite frequently during this recital that the choir, as recorded here, is somewhat unbalanced, with the soprano line too dominant. I’m afraid I also have to report that there were several occasions when I sensed that the sopranos were fractionally under the note and my wife, who listened to parts of the disc with me on one occasion, had the same impression.

The Elgar piece, with which the recital opens, offers a case in point. The opening and closing pages are lustily sung but also provided examples of the sopranos being just slightly under the pitch of the note. However, the quiet ending is nicely achieved. Here, and throughout the programme, the organ, a 1992 Rieger Orgelbau, is an appropriately potent presence in Peter Backhouse’s hands, not only when played full out but also in the softer passages.

The choir gives a good account of the MacMillan piece and they also do the Holst psalm setting well, presenting its varied textures nicely. The two pieces by Noel de Jongh were completely new to me. They are short and pithy but make a pleasing impression. Blessed is the Man is particularly impressive. The Howells anthem is justly popular as it’s one of his most serene and beautiful church compositions. The choir clearly strives to achieve a quiet and devotional atmosphere, which is appropriate. However, I had a nagging feeling that this was achieved at the expense of projecting the music as positively as one would wish.

The Mendelssohn offering, sung in German, sits a trifle oddly in what is otherwise a programme sung in English; one wonders if the Brahms might have been sung in the original German to make a little group within the recital. The Mendelssohn is smoothly sung but I wonder if it should have been made to sound a little more virile in places. In the Brahms piece the tenors float their line at 0:45 very nicely indeed but later on the fugal passage at “They ever praise Thee, O God” (track 11, 3:45) needs more drive and energy than is imparted here. The Parry piece, which provides the title for the disc, is another item that doesn’t quite have the requisite fervour and once again I noted one or two occasions of slightly sagging notes in the soprano line.

This is a carefully prepared programme and I wonder if that’s the trouble. The singing is perfectly decent and heard live in a recital or service would be fine. However, I fear that it lacks just a vital bit of character and punch and that’s a problem for repeated listening. Peter Backhouse is an excellent accompanist throughout. The recorded sound is excellent, the notes serviceable.

John Quinn   





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