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Hear My Words - Choral Classics from St. John’s
Gregorio ALLEGRI (1582-1652)
Miserere mei, Deus [13:57]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Ave, maris stella (1899) [3:16]
Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935)
O virgin Mother of God (Bogoróditse Djévo) (1990) [1:14]
Serge RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
O virgin Mother of God (Bogoróditse Djévo) (from All Night Vigil, Op. 37 (1915)) [2:46]
Robert PARSONS (c 1535-1572)
Ave, Maria [5:40]
Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA (1525-1594)
Exultate Deo [2:23]
Thomas TALLIS (c 1505-1585)
Agnus Dei (Missa ‘Salve intemerata’) [6:28]
James MACMILLAN (b. 1959)
A New Song (1997) [5:07]
César FRANCK (1822-1890) Panis angelicus (1872) [3:39]
Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Jubilate Deo [3:13]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
O taste and see (1952) [1:34]
John RUTTER (b. 1945)
O Lord, thou hast searched me out (2007) [7:32]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Cantique de Jean Racine, Op. 11 (1865) [5:26]
Sir Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848-1918)
Hear my words, ye people (1894) [14:12]
Helen Scarborough (cor anglais); Graham Walker (cello); Timothy Ravalde (organ)
Choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge/Andrew Nethsingha
rec. 9-11 April 2010, St. John’s College Chapel, Cambridge. DSD
Original texts and English translations included
CHANDOS CHSA 5085 [77:20]
Experience Classicsonline

It’s interesting to see what, for the purposes of this programme, is defined as a ‘Choral Classic’ Several of the items – the Allegri, the Franck and the Fauré, for example – comfortably fit the genre, having been ubiquitous in the repertoire for many decades. Whether some of the more recent pieces – such as those by MacMillan, Pärt or Rutter – will be so regarded, say, in fifty years’ time remains to be seen. What can be said with confidence, however, is that all the pieces chosen by Andrew Nethsingha for this programme are current staples of the choral repertoire, and rightly so since there isn’t a ‘dud’ among them.

My own view, for what it’s worth, is that the more recent pieces will stand the test of time. The buoyant piece by Pärt – intelligently juxtaposed with Rachmaninov’s contrasting setting of the same text – was commissioned for the 1990 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge and one has frequently encountered it in concerts and services since. The Rutter offering, a St. John’s commission, is an intense and eloquent piece. It may not yet be as well established as the Pärt but it deserves to be, even if it is not as immediately and obviously appealing as some of Rutter’s other choral works. MacMillan’s fine setting of words from Psalm 96 is a good example of this composer’s expertise in writing for voices.

At the other end of the time spectrum come the examples of Renaissance polyphony. Palestrina’s joyful music is convincingly delivered here, as is the beautiful but more inward piece by Parsons, an exquisite jewel among Tudor sacred music.

All these pieces – and, indeed, the other works in the programme – are splendidly performed by the St, John’s choir. Andrew Nethsingha is now in his fourth year in charge of the choir and it’s clear that he’s continued and built on the high standards established by his distinguished predecessors, especially George Guest and Christopher Robinson. This is, I believe, the choir’s second disc for Chandos since Nethsingha’s arrival and it confirms the excellent impression made by their Howells recital (review). On this latest disc the choir seems to move effortlessly between musical styles and between languages – in this programme we hear them in three languages as well as English – and without exception the pieces find them well balanced and clear. There’s some good solo work along the way, notably from tenor Pablo Strong in the Franck and from Thomas Mullock in the Vaughan Williams.

Nethsingha’s direction of the choir is never anything other than assured. He brings out all the beauty in the music but I also appreciated the purposefulness with which he approaches Stanford’s robust Jubilate Deo and the Parry piece. In lesser hands the latter can seem overlong but Nethsingha ensures that such isn’t the case here.

As usual with Chandos, production values are high. The excellent booklet contains very good notes as well as all the texts. I listened to the disc as a CD and it seems that the engineers have done a first rate job. The acoustic of St. John’s Chapel is well conveyed – the resonance nicely used to add natural ambience – while the choir and the various accompanying instruments – all excellently played – are reported with clarity.

This is a most attractive and varied programme and all of it is expertly performed.

John Quinn