My spirit hath rejoiced - Settings of the Evening Canticles (Magnificat and Nunc dimittis)
Thomas Tertius NOBLE (1867-1955)
B minor Op 6 [8:18]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
“Gloucester Service” [11:18]
Herbert MURRILL (1909-1952)
E major [7:21]
Basil HARWOOD (1859-1949)
A flat major Op 6 [8:12]
Harold DARKE (1888-1976)
F major [9:51]
Herbert SUMSION (1899-1995)
G major [7:42]
Sir George DYSON (1883-1961)
D major [7:54]
Choir of St Paul’s Cathedral/John Scott
Christopher Dearnley (organ)
rec. St Paul’s Cathedral, 7, 8, 24 March 1988
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55402 [60:50]
Whilst the choice of anthem at Evensong in the Anglican Church involves the Precentor or Choirmaster in a search for words appropriate to the date within the Church year, the two Canticles, Magnificat and Nunc dimittis, remain unchanged.
Generations of composers, most of them involved in practical performance on a day to day basis, have provided settings appropriate to particular choirs or buildings. It is in many ways the ultimate gebrauchsmusik, where the composers work to strict requirements, and where opportunities for a sudden burst of the unexpected are few and inspiration must come from within a tight discipline rather than from the composer’s freedom of choice.
Under these circumstances the surprising thing is just how good the general standard of music is, even when, apart from Howells, the composers are scarcely known outside the writing of church music. When I reviewed an earlier disc of these Canticles by the St Paul’s Choir (My soul doth magnify the Lord Helios CDH55401) I noted that even the least inspired of the settings were wonderful examples of sincerity and musical craftsmanship. The same applies here, although I must admit that the quality of the music is generally less high than the earlier issue.
The one clear masterpiece here is Howells’ Gloucester Service, a superb example of his ability to draw inspiration from the building as well as the choir for whom he was writing. Gloucester Cathedral has a wonderful resonance, but so does St Paul’s so that the sound here matches that that the composer and the work require. There is something intoxicating about the overall effect which goes far beyond the disciplined requirements of daily worship into realms of pure music. The same cannot really be said of the other works here, although all meet those basic and by no means straightforward requirements. Those by Noble and Dyson are probably the best, confident and purposeful, as to a lesser degree is that by Harwood. Those by Murrill and Sumsion are more individual but I must admit to a blind spot for the popular but to my mind dull Darke in F.
Both choir and organist must have performed these pieces many times but there is no sense of routine in the performances here. Any recording in St Paul’s has to find a way of coping with the notorious echo and that achieved on this disc is as good as any in a building whose suitability for any kind of music is doubtful. There are good notes by Sarah Langdon. Like its predecessor it makes me long for more - all those composers known now (if at all) only by a key after their name, such as Tudway in G, Turle in D, Heathcote in A and Albertus Bryan in G. The list reads like the stations lost to Dr Beeching and perhaps it has the same appeal to those of a certain cast of mind.
There is something intoxicating about the overall effect which goes far beyond the disciplined requirements of daily worship into realms of pure music.