Oxford Anthems
William BYRD (c1540-1623)
O lux beata trinitas* [5:16]
Thomas TOMKINS (c1572-1656)
O Lord let me know mine end** [6:43]
Christopher TYE (1505-1572)
My trust, O Lord, in thee is grounded [4:05]
Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625)
O Lord in thy wrath rebuke me not [3:35]
William CROFT (1678-1727)
We will rejoice in thy salvation*** [4:55]
O Lord rebuke me not*** [7:32]
Maurice GREENE (1696-1755)
O clap your hands together* [3:35]
Thou visitest the earth* [2:26]
William BOYCE (1711-1779)
Wherewithal shall a young man* [5:51]
Thomas ATTWOOD (1765-1838)
Come, Holy Ghost** [4:17]
Jonathan BATTISHILL (1738-1801)
O Lord, look down from Heaven** [3:47]
Samuel Sebastian WESLEY (1810-1876)
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace**** [4:03]
Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
If ye them be risen with Christ***** [8:51]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Ave verum corpus [2:44]
C. Hubert H. PARRY (1848-1918)
I was glad [5:19]
The Choir of New College, Oxford/Edward Higginbottom
Timothy Morris (*), David Burchell (**), Andrew Smith (***), Martin Hallows (****), Paul Plummer (*****) (organ)
rec. 1987-2007, UK. ADD/DDD
No texts
HERITAGE HTGCD 217 [73:00]

In his review of two releases by Heritage, with the Choir of Clare College Cambridge, John Sheppard complained about the way these recordings were presented. In several items in which the choir is accompanied by organ, the organist is not mentioned, and the booklets omit texts and translations. This disc, with extracts from recordings which the Choir of New College Oxford made for the small label CRD, is no different in that respect. That said, translations are not really needed: only two items are to a Latin text, and as the lyrics are quite common translations should not be hard to find in booklets of other discs or on the internet. The lack of texts is harder to swallow, and so is the very scarce information about the composers.

At least the booklet refers to the recordings from which the pieces on this disc are taken. The CRD website isn't very helpful, as the discs are listed, but no track-list or additional information about the performers are given, like the organists or the soloists in some of the anthems. The website of the choir is more forthcoming: a list of its CRD recordings offers complete track-lists and the names of the soloists and organists, plus the dates of the recordings. Unfortunately itís incomplete: the pieces by Elgar and Parry are from the disc "The Victorian & Edwardian Anthem" which is not mentioned, and the organist of the disc which is devoted to "The Georgian Anthem" - from which the anthems by Attwood and Battishill are taken - is not given. I have been able to add some information by searching the internet and thanks to the booklets of some of this choir's discs in my own collection.

The anthem is a typical English phenomenon which came into existence in the 16th century. In the wake of the breakaway from the Roman-Catholic Church the Church of England needed its own liturgical music. As in all churches throughout Europe which were under the influence of the Reformation the use of the vernacular in liturgical music was given precedence. Several composers who had also written music on Latin texts contributed to the new genre. William Byrd - despite always remaining a faithful Catholic - was one of them. This disc begins with a Latin motet, though. It is a joyful hymn to the Holy Trinity, beautifully sung by the choir. The sound quality isn't that good. The recordings were made within a span of about 25 years, so the difference in sound quality between one track and another is one of the features of this disc.

The inclusion of a Latin motet may be a bit odd, the same is true for the order of the pieces. The oldest composer in the programme is Christopher Tye, and his anthem My trust, O Lord, in thee is grounded is the third track on this disc. It is a very lively piece and its rhythm is well exposed. It is preceded by a piece by Thomas Tomkins: O Lord, let me know mine end. Whereas Tye's anthem is a so-called full anthem, scored for choir, this is a verse anthem, in which episodes for full choir alternate with solo sections. Here there is just one soloist, the alto William Missin, who sings his part in a beautifully relaxed way. Orlando Gibbons was Tomkins' contemporary, and mainly known as a gifted keyboard player. O Lord, in thy wrath rebuke me not is a full anthem of a solemn nature, as one may expect with this text. Here we can admire both the strength and the transparency of the choral sound. The text expression is excellent - one of the many qualities of this choir.

One of the merits of this disc - and of the recording activities of Edward Higginbottom - is the attention given to the anthem in the late 17th and the 18th century, often considered a period of decline in English church music. The anthems by Croft, Boyce and Greene are in a baroque idiom, quite different from what was written by the likes of Tomkins and Gibbons. Two specimens of Croft's sacred music have been included here, both from his collection Musica Sacra of 1724. They are strongly contrasting in character: the exuberant We will rejoice in thy salvation is followed by the introspective O Lord, rebuke me not. The latter anthem is comparable with that by Gibbons, and as different as the treatment of the texts may be, Croft's anthem is in no way less expressive. The solo parts in this verse anthem are sung by Stephen Taylor (alto), Nicholas Smith (tenor) and Nicholas Harries (bass). They sing beautifully, and avoid the slight vibrato of the soloists in the We will rejoice: Fergus McLusky (alto), Philip Cave (tenor) and Michael Morton (bass).

Polyphony is the prime feature of the first of Maurice Greene's anthems, O clap your hands together. Because of that the homophonic setting of the words "God is the King of the earth" is all the more notable. This full anthem is followed by Thou visitest the earth which is referred to as a verse anthem. In fact it is only an excerpt from the verse anthem Thou, O God, art praised in Sion. I don't know why only this section was recorded. It begins with a solo episode for tenor, sung by Toby Spence. He is just one of the members of the choir who have made an international career as a soloist. The last piece from the baroque era is by William Boyce. Wherewithal shall a young man is called a full anthem in the booklet, but in fact it is a verse anthem - and is mentioned as such in New Grove. It consists of three sections, the first and last being scored for full choir, whereas the second section is for solo voices. These are Nicholas Whitcomb and Jerome Finnis (treble), Stephen Taylor (alto), Mark Milhofer (tenor) and Timothy West (bass). The trebles prove that the boys from this choir are well-trained to sing solo parts.

With Thomas Attwood and Jonathan Battishill we come to "The Georgian Anthem", as the disc is called from which the two pieces in the programme are taken. Jonathan Battishill was educated as an organist and was for some time deputy to William Boyce at the Chapel Royal. His anthem O Lord, look down from heaven for 7 voices and organ is rightly called "highly dramatic" in the booklet. This may have something to do with the fact that Battishill played a considerable role in music theatre in the third quarter of the 18th century. In comparison Come, Holy Ghost by Thomas Attwood, who was a pupil of Mozart, is much more straightforward. It is homophonic and the melody is the main attraction of this piece; the organ part is quite elaborated and points into the direction of the anthem of the Victorian era, in which the possibilities of the symphonic organ were fully explored.

The most important link between the late classical era and the late 19th century is Samuel Sebastian Wesley. He was mainly known as a brilliant organist, but he was also active in other capacities. He considered his 12 Anthems which were printed in 1853 as his most important work. From this collection Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace is taken. Although it is a full anthem, Wesley differentiates the scoring on the basis of the text. "The darkness is no darkness with thee" is sung by the basses, in the next line - "but the night is as clear as the day" - they are joined by the tenors. The next lines describe how darkness is overcome by God's light, and here the trebles and altos come in. The Choir of New College may be best known and most famous for its performances of music of the renaissance and baroque; it shows its strengths here as well. That is also the case in the latest pieces on this disc. These are all full anthems in which the choir can pull out all its stops, and they do so very convincingly. The most famous piece is certainly I was glad which C. Hubert H. Parry wrote for the coronation of Edward VII, and which was performed at subsequent coronations and most recently at the Royal Wedding on 29 April 2011. The organ part is treated on an almost equal footing with the choir. Charles Villiers Stanford was a prolific composer in almost any genre, but has become best-known for his choral works, in particular sacred music. If ye then be risen with Christ is for four voices and organ and dates from 1883. Edward Elgar's sacred output is limited. Ave verum corpus is not really an anthem; it is one of three motets which are his opus 2. The pieces by Parry and Elgar are from the album "The Victorian & Edwardian Anthem". I haven't been able to find out who is playing the organ part. Two organists are involved in this recording, Nicholas Wearne and David Newsholme, but I don't know who is playing in which piece.

A disc like this may appeal to those who like this kind of repertoire without having a special interest. To them the sequence in various styles and scorings could be attractive. I don't hesitate to recommend it, in particular to those who don't know this choir yet. But the best advice I can give is to collect the original recordings from which the anthems on this disc are taken. I have already indicated that the performances are generally excellent.

I have been a great admirer of the Choir of New College since I heard it for the first time. Over the years I have collected some of their recordings, but unfortunately couldn't find all of them. I don't know how many of their CRD recordings are still available. But at least some of them have recently been reissued in a box of five discs, entitled "The Restoration and Georgian Anthem". In that form it is well worth investigation.

Johan van Veen

An attractive sampler though as nice as this disc may be those interested in the history of the English anthem should look for the original recordings.