And So It Goes - Priory Singers
Welsh Traditional arr. HOLST (1874-1934) My sweetheart’s like Venus [2.02]
TALLIS (c1505-1585)
If ye love me [2.14]
STANFORD (1852-1924)
The Bluebird
Billy MAYERL (1902-1959) arr. Chilcott
and so it goes
BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Os Justi [4.59]
Spiritual arr. Alan Woods
Listen to de lambs [2.44]
Billy JOEL (b. 1949) arr. Philip Lawson
Lullaby [3.56]
BYRD (1543-1623)
Ave verum Corpus [4.13]
Robert Lucas DE PEARSALL (1795-1856)
Lay a garland [2.50]
Paul McCARTNEY (b. 1942) arr, Daryl Runswick
Blackbird [2.31]
Jerome KERN (1885-1945) arr. Alan Summers
The way you look tonight [2.11]
John TAVENER (b. 1944)
The Lamb [3.41]
SULLIVAN (1842-1900)
The Long day Closes [3.46]
Barry MANILOW arr. Stephanie Benavente
One voice [2.34]
Priory Singers/Stephen Benavente
rec. St. John the Baptist Church, Newport, Gwent, 27 February 2010.

The Priory Singers celebrated the tenth anniversary of their first rehearsal in late 2009 and recorded this disc in 2010 as part of their celebrations. It includes pieces, so their ‘blurb’ says in the rather slim booklet, that are typical of their repertoire and of their concerts. The booklet does not make clear where they are based. However the recording was made in Newport and anyway their very good website tells us that they are based in South Wales. Their membership is a mixture of professional, semi-professional and amateur singers. The repertoire ranges from Tudor anthems to contemporary arrangements and this cross-section is represented on this CD.

As can seen from the heading we move rapidly around from Byrd and Sullivan to Negro spirituals and tasteful arrangements of recent popular music. It’s the sort of varied repertoire that keeps a choir interested and on their toes. Each style or type of piece needs a differing approach either in technique or in vocal colouring.

On the plus side I should say immediately that if this choir came to my town I would go to hear them. They have a fresh enthusiasm which is infectious and an evening in their presence would give much pleasure. In addition the CD has many good things about it. For example the arrangements of the popular songs, those by Paul McCartney, Billy Joel and Barry Manilow. Manilow’s song ends the CD with a burst of power and joy. Stephanie Benavente’s skilful arrangement seems to be very much in the choir’s bloodstream. They seem well suited to and most comfortable in these arrangements. Incidentally three members of Benavente family are listed: there’s also a lovely soloist, Genevieve Benavente. In fact each of the soloists and there are six listed, has good diction, and clear attractive voices. Although there are occasional moments of wobbly intonation in the choir they are almost unnoticeable.

There are several things about the presentation of this CD which need to be commented upon for the benefit of potential purchasers. It is to be hoped that these things can be taken on board for future CDs that the Priory Singers might produce. The double page insert contains two attractive black and white photos of the choir and something of their history but although it was probably too much to expect texts to be reproduced there are no comments at all about the individual pieces nor any account of how they came to be chosen. Secondly the repertoire is fairly standard stuff and as the longest piece is just less than five minutes (the negro spiritual) there is no single work which really shows the choir off. The recording weighs in at less than 45 minutes which nowadays is unusually short-winded. Surely a more demanding, longer and more complex piece, perhaps something renaissance, could have been accommodated so that the choir’s full potential might have been more fully demonstrated. Curiously, as there is so much spare CD space it is surprising that there is very little time between the tracks. For example the Bruckner runs almost imperceptibly into the spiritual.

With such a wide repertoire clear characterisation of each style and work is important. I have already mentioned how the popular arrangements generally come off well,. However more distinction of character is needed elsewhere. As one moves between Byrd, Pearsall and Jerome Kern there is a danger that everything comes out sounding the same.

The recording has a keen sparkle and clarity. This enables the words to shine out. The stereo spacing is clear and well focused. For some tastes the slight emphasis towards the upper voices might mean that the treble of the amplifier needs to be turned down a little more than usual.

Nevertheless, despite these cavils there is much here to enjoy and much latent virtue in the choir. Let’s hope that they are able to follow up this recording and continue to work and develop as a successful unit in the years ahead.

I completed this review on St. David’s Day 2011.

Gary Higginson

A few cavils but there is much here to enjoy.