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CD: AmazonUK AmazonUS

BBC Songs of Praise
Track-List at end of review
rec. 1961-1993
EMI TV VTDC 1032 6795232 [2 CDs: c.150:00]

Experience Classicsonline

BBC TV's Sunday evening programme is celebrating its first fifty years. If you are a viewer you will know this already. Its homely presence has provided a focus for faith, solace and singing joy since 1961. Programmes have moved from church to church taking the BBC to congregations across the UK. No doubt, ladies' outfitters - especially those selling hats - have done rather nicely out of this. The joke about churches suddenly swelled by people who have not been to church or at least to that church for years is well enough known. But behind the complacency and perhaps the occasional surrender to the excitement of being 'on the telly' is the comfort, support and faith the programme delivers and underpins. In a time of falling numbers in the pews it may, strangely enough, have helped reinforce the trend - how much easier it is to have 30 minutes of TV as a substitute for physical attendance though the less physically agile elderly or those without transport will also have found the programme of value.

So what do we have here? What we do not have is hymns taken from the soundtrack of the series. These are 42 hymns across two CDs sung by professional choirs. The recordings are from mixed and single gender choirs with the occasional solos. Some are with organ including the superb ozone-rich Let All the World from King's, some with brass, some where the singers are unaccompanied. The age of the recordings varies greatly: from the 1960s to the present day. There are quite a few from the 1990s and 2000s. All the standards are there and in a variety of treatments. No carols, though, apart from Come O Come Emanuel; there are more CD collections of them than there are of hymns. My only regret is the absence of a personal favourite; Hills of the North Rejoice!

The performers are well enough known to those who know the classical world. They include among the choirs the Huddersfield Choral Society, Libera, King's College, York Minster and Liverpool Philharmonic Choir. York and Huddersfield put in a really good showing here. Organists and conductors number Sir Charles Groves, Sir David Willcocks, George Thalben-Ball, Stephen Cleobury, Ian Wells and Oliver Brett.

Highlights include the clarion organ in Love Divine, the steady stride of Abide with me and the glowing Sibelian light of Libera in Be Still my Soul. The terpsichorean New Age delicacy of For The Beauty of the Earth is memorable. If the Huddersfield Choral Society are involved you know that you will get commitment and passion and they feature in quite a few tracks. Morning Has Broken here has a hearty has a quiet innocence. Libera close the first disc with a breathily pop-balanced Lead Kindly Light sounding like an ecclesiastical annex to Phantom of the Opera.

The John Ireland 'pop' My Song is Love Unknown and Holy, Holy need more animation though you would not complain of torpor in York Minster's accelerator-down For all the saints. Thine Be The Glory needs to sound as if the singers mean it. That can be a problem with professional singers: while technical mastery is a given does fervour shine through in the singing?

Ambiences and recording quality vary somewhat but never to any real detriment. The insert lists hymns and artists: no sung words and a scant few sentences of background about the programme.

The two CDs are in a convenient single width case. This serves as a compact and variegated reminder of a programme that first aired on 1 October 1961. It shows no sign of losing its still rising and inspirational voice. I suspect that any attempt to silence or re-engineer its television presence would be ferociously and ecumenically resisted.

Rob Barnett


Disc One:
1. Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah
2. Love divine, all loves excelling (Blaenwern)
3. Be thou my vision (Slane)
4. How great thou art (Sanningsvittnet)
5. Abide With Me
6. Dear Lord and Father of mankind (Repton)
7. Be still my soul
8. Ave Maria (1984 - Remaster)
9. For the beauty of the earth
10. My song is love unknown (Love Unknown)
11. Thine be the glory (Maccabaeus)
12. And Can It Be (Sagina)
13. Crown Him With Many Crowns
14. Jerusalem
15. Now thank we all our God (Nun danket) [1995 - Remaster]
16. Lord of all hopefulness (Slane)
17. Immortal Invisible God Only Wise
18. Morning has broken (Bunessan)
19. All my hope on God is founded (Michael)
20. Rejoice, the Lord is king (Gopsal)
21. Lead Kindly Light

Disc Two:
1. Amazing Grace
2. Praise My Soul The King Of Heaven
3. The Lord's my shepherd (Crimond)
4. When I Survey The Wondrous Cross
5. All creatures of our God and king (Lasst uns erfreuen)
6. The King of love my shepherd is (Dominus regit me) [1995 Digital Remaster]
7. The Day Thou Gavest Lord, Is Ended
8. For all the saints (Sine nomine)
9. To God Be The Glory
10. Come down, O Love divine (Down Ampney)
11. Praise to the Lord, the almighty, the king of creation (Hast du denn, Jesu)
12. God So Loved The World
13. Eternal Father, strong to save (Melita)
14. Holy, holy, holy (Nicaea) [v.2 arr. Willcocks]
15. Like a mighty river flowing
16. O come, O come, Emmanuel (2004 - Remaster)
17. O praise ye the Lord (Laudate Dominum)
18. O worship the king (Hanover)
19. Let all the world in every corner sing (George Herbert)
20. The Light of Life (Lux Christi) Op. 29 (1993 - Remaster): XVI. Light of the World, we know Thy praise
21. Soul of my saviour (Anima Christi)

York Minster Choir, Huddersfield Choral Society, Choir Of King's College Cambridge, Huddersfield Choral Society, Libera, Temple Church Choir, Skelmanthorpe Male Choir, Massed Choirs from Merseyside, Stephen Cleobury, Sir David Willcocks, Sir Charles Groves, John Scott, Ian Wells






























































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