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Dear Lord and Father - Favourite hymns and hymn-anthems
Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848-1918)
Dear Lord and Father of mankind (arr. H.A. Chambers) [4:47]
Irish trad. (1874-1946)
The King of Love my Shepherd is (arr. E.C. Bairstow) [5:14]
William Henry HARRIS (1883-1973)
O what their joy [8:27]
Peace be to this congregation (arr. Harry Grindle) [1:43]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
Psalm CXLVIII (Lord, Who hast made us) [5:13]
Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625)
Jesu, grant me this I pray (arr. E.C. Bairstow) [3:23]
Melchior VULPIUS (c.1560-1615)
The Strife is O'er (arr. H. Ley) [2:49]
William HORSLEY (1774-1858)
There is a green hill (arr. J. Nixon) [3:04]
Love's redeeming work is done (arr. J. Nixon) [2:49]
Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Six Hymns from Op 113:
Let us, with a gladsome mind [1:43]
Purest and Highest [3:11]
In thee is gladness [2:47]
Pray thay Jerusalem may have peace [2:10]
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty [2:27]
Oh! For a closer walk [3:36]
Maurice BEVAN (1921-2006)
There's a wideness in God's mercy [3:07]
Louis BOURGEOIS (c.1510-after 1561)
The Old Hundredth (All people that on earth do dwell) (arr. R. Vaughan Williams) [4:29]
The Choir of Ripon Cathedral/Andrew Bryden; Thomas Leech (organ)
rec. 11 - 13 June 2008, Ripon Cathedral
REGENT REGCD298 [60:39]
Experience Classicsonline

One of the main subjects of debate among those who care about the quality of the liturgical music in the Church of England is the state of cathedral choirs. And part of this debate focuses on the use of boys or girls in those choirs. For a long time most cathedral choirs consisted of boys and men. Over the last decade or so several cathedrals have either made their choirs accessible to girls or founded a girls' section which sings with the lay clerks in alternation with the boys. The supporters of the traditional Anglican church music are worried about this as they fear this could undermine the singing of boys in cathedral choirs.

The reasons for the use of girls are twofold. First of all, singing in a cathedral choir is a great experience which can have a lasting influence on someone's musical development, or even the development as a person. Quite a number of professional musicians have found their membership of a cathedral (or college) choir very stimulating, even making them choose a career in music. Why shouldn't girls be given the same opportunity which for a long time has been limited to boys? Secondly, many cathedrals find it increasingly difficult to attract boys to replace those whose voices have broken. In addition the age at which a boy's voice breaks seems to drop consistently. As a result a boy's voice has less time fully to develop and the boys have to be replaced sooner.

The Choir of Ripon Cathedral uses both boys and girls. The two choirs are separate and Ripon Cathedral is one of the places where the girls and the boys sing with the lay clerks in alternation. From the perspective of those who fear the downfall of the boy's voice in cathedral choirs this is perhaps the least unacceptable solution. The reality shows that boys and girls singing together doesn't really work. It is not easy for a boy to sing in a choir anyway. But peer pressure makes it almost inconceivable to imagine boys singing in a choir with girls. As a result mixed choirs often turn into girls' choirs as the boys leave and there are none to replace them. Another aspect is that boys and girls produce a different kind of sound. It doesn't make sense to try to mix them nor to force girls to sing like boys.

It seems that there are people who don't believe there is a clear difference between the singing of boys and girls. They should listen to this disc, where the girls sing with the men, and then listen to a disc with an all-male choir. The difference will become clear immediately.

I am a great admirer of the all-male college and cathedral choirs and would hate to see the boys being replaced or overshadowed by girls. I have nothing against choirs of girls and men, but I just prefer the sound of boys' voices. I'll try to assess this disc as objectively as possible, though.

This release has two merits. Firstly, this is no doubt a good choir which sings technically very well. Secondly, on this disc an attempt has been made to avoid the obvious. Even though many anthems are rather well-known, in several cases arrangements are sung which are different from what we mostly get to hear on discs like this. One example is the hymn which has given this disc its title. It is based on an aria from Hubert Parry's oratorio Judith and set to words by George Gilbert Stocks. "On this recording the original musical content of Parry's aria is retained and arranged for organ and four part choir by H.A. Chambers (...)", Andrew Bryden writes in the booklet. And Alison Cadden's anthem 'Peace be to this congregation' is sung here in an arrangement for unaccompanied choir by Harry Grindle.

I have to say that I don't find the arrangements any real improvement. Yes, they result in a programme which is different from what is offered in many available recordings, but the more 'traditional' or 'original' versions are often preferable in regard to quality. At the same time, some hymns are arrangements of much older musical material. And if you know the originals the mostly 19th- or 20th-century arrangements are sometimes difficult to swallow. Ralph Vaughan Williams' 'The Old Hundredth', which is an arrangement of a tune from the Genevan Psalter of the 16th century, is one of the better examples. But 'In thee is gladness' from the Six Hymns by Stanford is based on an Italian dance song - also used in Germany as the hymn 'In dir ist Freude' - in Stanford's arrangements nothing is left of its dance-like character.

The fact that the tempo is rather slow doesn't help. That is a general problem with this disc: the tempi are sometimes terribly slow. And as a result many pieces are boring. I found it very difficult to keep my concentration in Harris's 'O what their joy'. Joyful it doesn't sound here, also because there is very little differentiation in the choir's singing. That is also noticeable in other pieces, like Maurice Bevan's 'There's a widening in God's mercy'.

You will have gathered from what I have written so far that I didn't like this disc very much. I find the sound of the choir rather uninteresting and dull. The way the various anthems are sung is one-dimensional. And in addition to a difference in sound between boys and girls - independent of what one prefers - boys have a clear advantage over the girls in that, in the lower register, boys have fewer problems in making themselves audible against the organ. Here the lower notes of the girls are difficult to hear because of the noise of the organ. In addition I don't like the constant vibrato of the lay clerks.

In his programme notes Andrew Bryden writes about "an improvisatory-like flute solo" in 'The King of Love my Shepherd is', but I haven't heard a flute. And in Vaughan Williams' 'The Old Hundredth' there are no trumpets, although the programme notes talk about "a trumpet descant". The tracklist fails to give any dates for composers' or arrangers' birth or death which is a serious omission. I have tried to add these dates but couldn't find them all.

It is very unlikely that those who are sceptical about girls singing in cathedral choirs will change their mind while listening to this disc. It will rather confirm them in their view that this is not the way to solve the problems regarding the singing of boys in the liturgy of the Church of England.

Johan van Veen




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