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Oxford Church Anthems
Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Oxford/Stephen Darlington
Stephen Farr (organ)
rec. 23-24 May 1994, Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, UK. DDD
NIMBUS NI 5440 [59:01]

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Charles WOOD (1866-1926)
O thou, the central orb [4:41]
Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625)
Almighty and everlasting God [2:17]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
My eyes for beauty pine [2:27]
Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Where Thou reignest (after D 763) [5:57]
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Locus iste (WAB 23) [2:58]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Lord, I trust thee (after HWV 48) [2:20]
William H. HARRIS (1883-1973)
Holy is the true light [1:53]
Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988)
Solus ad victimam [4:39]
John RUTTER (b. 1945)
God be in my head [1:50]
Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Pray that Jerusalem [2:38]
Johannes ECCARD (1553-1611)
When to the temple Mary went [3:03]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Thou knowest, Lord (Z 58b) [2:13]
William BYRD (1543-1623)
Ave verum corpus [4:04]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Awake, thou wintry earth (after BWV 129) [3:06]
Tomás Luis DE VICTORIA (1548-1611)
O quam gloriosum [2:39]
Thomas MORLEY (1577/78-1602)
Nolo mortem peccatoris [3:03]
JOÃO IV (1604-1656) (attr)
Crux fidelis [2:31]
H. BALFOUR GARDINER (1877-1950)
Evening hymn [6:42]

 
The liturgical tradition and practice of the Church of England is rich and varied. It has resulted in a large corpus of music which is widely performed in Sunday services, morning prayers and evensongs. How on earth do you select 100 anthems from this large repertoire? That was the task of Lionel Dakers (1924-2003) whose selection was published by Oxford University Press in 1994 under the title The New Church Anthem Book. What made his task even harder was that every stylistic period had to be represented, from the renaissance to the present day. This disc presents 18 anthems from this book, going from William Byrd to John Rutter.
 
A disc like this should rather be judged from a liturgical perspective than from the angle of performance practice. By this I mean that questions regarding 'authenticity' are less relevant. After all, motets in the liturgy are not sung to express the intentions of the composers but rather to communicate their content. For me, being Dutch and not having grown up with the Anglican liturgical tradition, it is quite odd to hear hymns by German composers in the form in which they are sung here. They have mostly undergone strong transformation. Lord, I trust thee, the closing chorale of Handel's Brockes Passion, for instance, sounds very un-German to my ears, in a tempo which is too slow and with a treatment of dynamics which hardly meshes with 18th century habits. And the connection between text and music in Awake, thou wintry earth after Bach's Cantata 129 is pretty awkward.
 
Moreover, a motet like Crux fidelis by João IV is not performed complete; the King's Singers (review) take almost ten minutes for this piece. The liner-notes fail to mention that there are doubts about its authenticity. But then notes and track-lists often omit information which should be given, like catalogue numbers (Purcell, Schubert) and the original titles of pieces of foreign origin.
 
So this disc is mainly a sound illustration of the collection which Lionel Dakers - who also wrote the notes - brought together in The New Church Anthem Book. I assume that many choirs use this book, and that in many churches one will hear less perfect performances than those from the Christ Church Cathedral Choir Oxford. The 19th- and 20th-century anthems come off best. This is daily bread for any cathedral and college choir, and here the choir is hard to beat. In the older repertoire I would sometimes prefer more powerful performances. Gibbons' Almighty and everlasting God is too feeble, especially considering the text. Although one can't judge this disc by historical criteria Purcell's Thou knowest Lord is less well articulated than one would wish, and some elements in the text should have been given more weight. Lastly, the dissonances in Crux fidelis are hardly notable. Here the King's Singers make a more lasting impression, and an old recording of Portuguese polyphony by Pro Cantione Antiqua (Teldec) includes the most incisive performance of this motet I have ever heard.
 
Lovers of English anthems will certainly enjoy this disc. The booklet includes all the lyrics, but is inconsistent in the provision of translations. There are no translations of the text of Bruckner's Locus iste nor of the Latin lines in Morley's Nolo mortem peccatoris. In Schubert's When Thou reignest one line has been left out: "Praise to God the Eternal Son". It would have been helpful if the stanzas of this anthem could have been divided by extra space between the lines. Lastly, it is regrettable that the soloist who sings the first stanza so beautifully is not mentioned.
 
Johan van Veen
http://www.musica-dei-donum.org
https://twitter.com/johanvanveen
 
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