Hubert H. PARRY (1848-1918)
I was glad when they said unto me [5:27]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
How lovely is Thy dwelling place [6:02]
Frederick A. G. OUSELEY (1825-1889)
O Saviour of the world [2:26]
Henry BALFOUR GARDINER
Evening Hymn [6:24]
O sacrum convivium [3:54]
Johann Sebastian BACH
Jesu, joy of man’s desiring [5:36]
Salve Regina [3:16]
Blessed City, heavenly Salem [8:54]
Panis Angelicus [3:36]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Jubilate Deo [2:35]
For He shall give His angels charge over thee [2:56]
John RUTTER (b. 1945)
A Gaelic Blessing [2:00]
Charles WOOD (1866-1926)
Hail, gladdening light [3:10]
Walter PARRATT (1841-1924)
The Whirlwind [3:25]
John SHEPPARD (c.1520-c. 1563)
Libera nos, salva nos 1 [3:08]
O how glorious is the kingdom [6:51]
As Jeremy Cull reminds us in the notes accompanying this disc, Parry’s I was glad was composed for the coronation of Edward VII. It has been sung at every subsequent coronation, making it a particularly appropriate choice as the opening work in this enjoyable recital of anthems from the choir of the royal chapel at Windsor. It receives a splendidly sonorous performance. An extract from Ein Deutsches Requiem follows. I’ve never been keen on the Anglicisation of Brahms’ masterpiece, and the organ accompaniment takes the music into a sphere which seems foreign to the aims of the composer and the nature of the music. If that doesn’t bother you – and it doesn’t seem to bother the majority of English church music enthusiasts – then this is again a very good performance, sung in English, the accompaniment beautifully and discreetly played and the reading admirably unaffected apart from a rather romantic easing of the pulse on the last page or so. O Saviour of the World is a most beautiful, pensive piece from the pen of F. A. G. Ouseley, an ordained priest of the Church of England who used much of his inherited wealth to create schemes supporting and encouraging church music. Gardiner’s Evening Hymn gives an English title to the Latin plainchant text Te lucis ante terminum. Britten used this same hymn as the musical point of departure for his first “parable for church performance”, Curlew River. Nothing could be further from Britten, however, than this grandiose work, strikingly dramatic for most of its length, though with a most affectingly restrained close.
Tallis’s sublime five-part motet O sacrum convivium is performed with a near-perfect blend of the two apparently disparate elements which characterise Renaissance polyphony, serenity and passion, and whilst I might have thought that I’d heard enough performances of Jesu, joy of man’s desiring in my life, it didn’t stop the famous melody nagging away at my mind for the rest of the afternoon! The boys are silent in Tye’s exquisite Salve Regina, and the organ introduction of the following Bairstow piece comes as something of a shock. Jeremy Cull refers to this as one of Bairstow’s “most ambitious creations”, and whilst this may be true, I confess to preferring his smaller-scale pieces, finding in this one rather too many overblown gestures. Those – like me, alas! – who suffer from a mild to severe organ allergy, might also note a reaction to the thickness of texture in much of the accompaniment. The serene final verse is lovely though.
Franck’s Panis Angelicus is an old favourite, frequently programmed at weddings, its simple canon always affecting and as well executed here as anywhere. Exuberance and joy are not qualities often associated with Britten’s music, but both are present in abundance in his short, organ-accompanied Jubilate Deo. Attentive listeners might notice one or two sour notes from the boys in the extract from Mendelssohn’s Elijah, but in truth this is the only point in the recital where this criticism can be made. They are on form for Rutter’s typically sweet and serene A Gaelic Blessing, but I feel as though I’m swimming against the tide when I express relief at passing on to Charles Wood’s Hail, gladdening light, its rich, double choir texture and harmony very much of its time, but speaking more directly to the listener, with never a trace of artifice. Master of the Queen’s Music was only one of the eminent posts held by Sir Walter Parratt. He was also organist at St. George’s Chapel from 1882 until his death. Jeremy Cull recounts the anecdote that Parratt never wrote down the organ part of The Whirlwind, preferring to improvise it each time the work was performed. I hope the choir were comfortable with this! (The booklet note refers to a performance of this piece at the British Memorial Garden in New York on 11 September 2006, and also to the fact that the recording of this piece is dedicated to the memory of those who died in the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, and the proceeds from it donated to the British Memorial Garden Trust Inc.)
Perhaps the most consistently satisfying parts of this excellent collection are the pieces of Renaissance polyphony, and the glorious motet by the short-lived John Sheppard is perhaps the most striking of the three, both in terms of the piece itself and the long-breathed, perfectly paced performance. The recital then closes with a return to stock Anglican fare with Basil Harwood’s anthem, complete with virtuoso organ part.
The boys – twenty-three of them, according to the booklet – sing with gusto and refinement, and the twelve adult voices combine with them to create a most satisfying overall sound. There are one or two tiny imperfections in terms of attack or intonation, but these are insignificant. Timothy Byram-Wigfield directs the choir in readings which are sober and thoughtful and the organ accompaniments, some of which are very taxing, are outstandingly well taken by Roger Judd. All the performances are excellent, and several more than that. The recording is superb, with an ideal balance between the choir and organ and, crucially, a real sense of the building, pleasantly reverberant and with the choir placed at just the right distance from the listener. All the sung texts are printed in the booklet, as is the excellent essay by Jeremy Cull to which I have already referred several times. There are also some charming, if rather grainy, photographs of the performers. Overall, anyone to whom the programme appeals can invest in this disc with the utmost confidence.