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CD: AmazonUK AmazonUS

England, My England
see end of review for track listing
Choir of King's College, Cambridge
rec. details not supplied. ADD DDD
EMI CLASSICS 2289440 [77.07 + 74.40] 

Experience Classicsonline

England, My England is a showcase for the Choir of Kings College, Cambridge, as they perform mainly religious gems of the glorious English repertoire. As the notes point out, their sound is a quintessentially English one, and the Chapel itself - in which most of the works presented here are recorded - is an important English historical building.

A quick word of warning to anyone who thinks, on the basis of the title, that they’re buying a nice compilation of standard choral and orchestral works by the British Greats of the Twentieth century: a significant proportion of this two-disc set is, in fact, taken up with hymns and anthems.

The first disc opens with Handel’s Zadok the Priest. It has a pleasingly crisp, clean sound, although I wasn’t that keen on the vocal trills, nor was I convinced by the ensuing setting of the Lux Aeterna text to Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations. However, there then follows a beautifully enunciated and refined version of the hymn Praise, my soul, the king of heaven - although the descant, to my mind, is not nearly as awe-inspiring or magnificent as the traditional version we all know and love. The performance of Tallis’s Spem in Alium is, to my mind, the lowest point on the entire set and disappointed me hugely. The acoustic is so reverberant that we get wave after wave of wishy-washy, muddy sound, lacking in detail and clarity and with the boys too breathy and very insecure in places. It disintegrates into a sibilant mess towards the end.

On the plus side, there is a nice intimacy to the Psalm 23 The Lord is my shepherd chant, and we get good, sound versions of Pie Jesu from Rutter’s Requiem (although the treble is slightly flat in places), Purcell’s Come, ye Sons of Art and Byrd’s Ave Verum Corpus and Iustorum animae. There is a rather majestic rendition of Vaughan Williams’s hymn Come down, O love divine, and a radiant version of Stanford’s Beati quorum via. I was also struck by the gutsy Vaughan Williams Antiphon and robust Psalm 67 setting, God be merciful unto us. It was also good to hear Roy Douglas’s version of Vaughan Williams’s Old Hundredth for brass and organ - although the Choir sound more solemn than “cheerful” of voice! An imposing finish to the first disc nevertheless.

The second disc opens with a suitably fiery rendition of Parry’s Jerusalem, and includes Tavener’s Song for Athene, with a luminous climax. There’s also an impressive, if slightly over-blown performance of Abide with me - perhaps too grandiose a version of that intimate hymn. The unevenness in performance continues, with a lovely rendition of the much-loved Stanford in G followed by a rather limp and dreary performance of Purcell’s Lord, Thou Knowest. The beautiful The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, is ended is in Rutter’s lovely arrangement which contrasts with Ireland’s Greater love hath no man a few tracks later, which lacks splendour. However, the disc features an absolutely magical reading of Dear Lord and Father of mankind, and there is a deft touch in the Britten Jubilate Deo. Delius features with a suitably languorous To be sung of a summer night on the water and the set ends powerfully, with a stirring account of Parry’s I was Glad.

This is a very mixed bag. Some of the tracks present the most glorious singing, whilst others disappoint with dodgy intonation, lacklustre performances and sometimes straining in the voices. On that basis, I deeply regret that this is not a set that I can wholeheartedly endorse.

Em Marshall

see also review by John France 

Track listing
CD 1
George Frederick HANDEL Zadok the Priest [5.19]
Edward ELGAR Lux aeterna [3.22]
John GOSS Praise, my soul, the king of heaven [2.50]
Thomas TALLIS Spem in alium [7.35]
John GOSS The Lord is my shepherd [2.11]
George Frederick HANDEL Hallelujah Chorus [4.22]
John RUTTER Requiem - Pie Jesu [3.33]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Come down, O love divine [3.40]
Thomas TALLIS O nata lux de lumine [1.56]
Henry BALFOUR GARDINER Evening Hymn (Te lucis ante terminum) [5.27]
William BYRD Ave verum corpus [4.32]
Edward MILLER, Samuel WEBBE When I survey the wondrous cross [3.29]
Charles Villiers STANFORD Beati quorum via [3.08]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Antiphon (Let all the world in every corner sing) [3.17]
William BYRD lustorum animae [2.53]
Henry PURCELL Come ye sons of art away [1.47]
William HARRIS Faire is the heaven [5.08]
Edward BAIRSTOW God be merciful unto us [2.06]
Robert PARSONS Ave Maria [5.00]
Louis BOURGEOIS All people that on earth do dwell [5.00]
CD 2
Hubert PARRY Jerusalem [2.56]
John RUTTER Requiem - Requiem aeternam [5.34]
Gustav HOLST I vow to thee, my country [2.30]
John TAVENER Song for Athene [6.34]
William Henry MONK Abide with me [4.50]
Charles Villiers STANFORD Magnificat in G [4.13]
Henry PURCELL Thou knowest, Lord Zion [2.25]
Orlando GIBBONS Hosanna to the son of David [3.01]
Clement C. SCHOLEFIELD The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended [3.17]
Hubert PARRY O how amiable are thy dwellings [3.36]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Mass in G minor - Kyrie [3.54]
John IRELAND Greater love hath no man [5.58]
Thomas TALLIS If ye love me [2.26]
Hubert PARRY Dear Lord and Father of mankind [3.53]
Benjamin BRITTEN Jubilate Deo [2.24]
Orlando GIBBONS Drop, drop, slow tears [1.18]
Frederick DELIUS To be sung of a summer night on the water I [2.09]
Robert P. GOODENOUGH O praise God in his holiness [1.46]
Thomas WEELKES When David heard [4.36]
Hubert PARRY I was glad [6.47]

Organ scholars: Thomas Williamson, Peter Stevens, Oliver Brett, James Lancelot, Benjamin Bayl, James Vivian, Tom Winpenny, Christopher Hughes. Stephen Cleobury. Sir Philip Ledger. Sir David Willcocks.




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