Lead me, Lord
Samuel Sebastian WESLEY (1810-1876) Praise the Lord, O my soul [12:33]; The Wilderness [12:53]; O give thanks unto the Lord [8:23]; Wash me throughly [4:33]
Charles STEGGALL (1826-1905) Remember now thy creator [6:31]
Thomas Attwood WALMISLEY (1814-1856) Remember, O Lord [12:12]
William CROTCH (1775-1847) How dear are Thy counsels [2:42]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) Hear my prayer [11:00]
The Choir of York Minster/Robert Sharpe
John Scott Whiteley (organ)
rec. York Minster, 3-5 February, 6 March 2010
texts included
REGENT REGCD344 [70:48]

It was to be expected that 2010 would bring many new recordings of music by Chopin and Mahler in the year of their anniversaries. It might have been hoped that there would be a similar rush to commemorate the birth of Samuel Sebastian Wesley in 1810 but I am not greatly surprised that this was not the case. Perhaps this is because of the nature of his music which was mainly for cathedral choirs or organ (or both) rather than genres more suited to the concert hall. Perhaps it is because of a lingering and wholly unjustified belief in some quarters of the poor quality of English music before the so-called Renaissance of Parry and Stanford. On the other hand it may be due simply to a simple ignorance of the music. In any event the present disc is very welcome in not merely including several fine examples of his best work but also in allowing comparison with the work of his contemporaries.

Samuel Sebastian Wesley was the grandson of Charles Wesley the hymn-writer and illegitimate son of Samuel Wesley the composer. He swiftly became known in turn as an organist and composer, the earliest of the works on this disc – “The Wilderness” – being written in 1832 to celebrate the restoration of the organ at Hereford Cathedral whose organist he had just become. From Hereford he went as organist to Exeter Cathedral, Leeds Parish Church, Winchester and Gloucester Cathedrals. His relations with the clergy in those places were almost always poor, faults being obvious on both sides, so that only his very considerable gifts must have enabled him to attain such a succession of distinguished appointments.

The three longer of his works on this disc are verse-anthems, a form used in English cathedral music since the seventeenth century to which Wesley gave new life. They are seldom performed in regular services now because of their length, although they are admirably suited to festal occasions. All of those on this disc are worth hearing, especially “The Wilderness”. Incidentally you may note that although the title of the disc – “Lead me, Lord” - is that of a short and often sung anthem by Wesley it is not listed amongst the contents of the disc. The reason is simply that it is not really a separate work but is extracted from “Praise the Lord, O my soul” which is included here. The shortest of Wesley’s works here is “Wash me throughly”, an astonishingly beautiful work of great harmonic subtlety.

The earliest work on the disc is a delightful short anthem by Crotch and the latest is Steggall’s well written but slightly dull penitential anthem. Much more enjoyable is the anthem by Walmisley, a pupil of Thomas Attwood who in turn was a pupil of Mozart. “Remember, O Lord” starts as a solemn sarabande followed by a treble solo and a fugue. His Evening Service in D minor is one of the most effective in the cathedral repertoire and I am sure that this anthem would be sung at least as frequently if again it were not for its length. The remaining work is the best known and at the same time the one least appropriate here – Mendelssohn’s “Hear my prayer”. It is a work of enormous beauty and justly regarded as “the choirboy’s Hamlet”, but it is wholly different in style and form to the English works which precede it. The influence of Mendelssohn on other composers of that time, especially Sullivan, however, is indubitable. In any event a good performance – as this with Billy Marshall as treble soloist certainly is – is always welcome.

The performances throughout are indeed of the very high quality one would expect. I did have some difficulty at first over the recording balance which seems to place the listener very close to the trebles but with the organ distant and having considerable reverberation, more than I recollect from services in the Minster. I soon got used to it however, although sadly detail in the organ part is at times obscured by the choir or by the reverberation, near the start of “The Wilderness” for example. The booklet is a model of such things, with excellent notes by John Lees, pictures of all the composers, texts and a full list of choir members.

In brief, this disc gives an admirable sample of the works of one of England’s best but least known composers displayed in an interesting context and presented in a way that informs the listener. This is certainly a worthy celebration of Wesley’s bicentenary

John Sheppard

An admirable sample of the works of one of England’s best but least known composers.