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CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS

see end of review for track listing
The trebles of Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum/Benjamin Nicholas
Helen Porter (piano); Carleton Etherington (organ)
rec. 5-7 July 2010, Merton College Chapel, Oxford. DDD
Texts and English translations included
DELPHIAN DCD34097 [66:42]

Experience Classicsonline

As a glance at the track-listing will indicate, this is a wide-ranging programme. It appears to offer a good representation of the varied musical fare to which Benjamin Nicholas ensures his young singers are exposed. It certainly gives them a broad musical education. One thing seems evident from the results that we can hear on this disc: the boys love singing. Throughout the programme enthusiasm and commitment are abundantly in evidence.

Enthusiasm will only get you so far, however. Happily, the fifteen treble members of Tewkesbury Abbeyís Schola Cantorum collectively have excellent voices, good musicianship and sound technique as well so the musical results on this disc are very good.

We hear several very good soloists during the programme but thereís one exceptional voice among the choir in the shape of Laurence Kilsby. The year before this recording was made he was, at the age of eleven, BBC Radio 2ís Young Chorister of the Year for 2009 and itís not hard to see why from the several solos that are allotted to him. The one that particularly caught my attention was the very first item on the disc, Quilterís lovely song Music, When Soft Voices Die. Laurence Kilsby makes a strong impression right from the start, producing a rich, round sound Ė thereís no hint of shrillness, even though he has some fine top notes. But what strikes me particularly is the intelligence with which a twelve-year old addresses the music. Kilsby doesnít just get through the notes, he offers a genuine and mature interpretation of the song. I also enjoyed his account of the other Quilter song and, needless to say, more regular treble fare, such as the first verse of John Irelandís lovely anthem or the Bach/Gounod piece, is grist to his mill. I hope this young man develops into an equally good adult singer when his voice breaks.

It will be seen that there are some pieces in the programme that one is accustomed to hearing treble choirs sing but I applaud very strongly the good leavening of modern music in the selection. The pieces by Arvo Pärt and by Philip Wilby Ė both of them well executed Ė are excellent; the Wilby piece is charming. Gabriel Jacksonís The Land Of Spices must present a real challenge to young singers. Not only is the wide-ranging vocal line very demanding Ė and though the Tewkesbury boys cope valiantly it sounds as if they find the music a bit taxing at times Ė but also the words, by George Herbert, are far from straightforward. Itís a very interesting piece and I think the choir does well to put it across as successfully as they do.

Thereís also a short, but characteristically interesting vocal offering from James MacMillan. Iíd not previously heard either Dutch Carol or the organ piece that MacMillan wrote for his own wedding but I enjoyed both. Itís also good to hear this fine composer, who usually writes in a very serious vein, composing somewhat lighter music.

As well as directing the choir very well Benjamin Nicholas contributes two instrumental solos. One is the aforementioned MacMillan piece while the other is the item by Howard Skempton, which is a piano solo. Iím afraid I found the Skempton to be a dreary piece, which doesnít really seem to go anywhere. In general Paul Baxterís recorded sound is up to its usual high standard on this disc though I was a little disconcerted from time to time because it seemed to me that sometimes the sound of the piano, when accompanying singers, was clouded a little in the resonant acoustic of Merton College Chapel. Oddly, however, I didnít notice this during the Skempton piece.

When the singers are accompanied their support comes either from Helen Porter, Director of Music at Dean Close School, Cheltenham, where the boys are educated, or from organist Carleton Etherington, who is the organist at Tewkesbury Abbey. Both make admirable contributions.

Returning to the singing, the boysí renditions of the three Vaughan Williams items all give great pleasure. I had mixed feelings about some of their American offerings, though all are well sung. Coplandís simple, sincere arrangement of At The River is a success but I didnít think the Bernstein song works at all as an item for a group of trebles. In the booklet we read that this was one of the encores on a 2005 American concert tour. It may have worked satisfactorily in that context but I donít care for it as something to listen to repeatedly on disc. On the other hand, I was fearful that Barberís great song, also an encore piece from that same US tour, would not sound right, but it does and the boys sing it very well.

The very last piece in the programme is entitled How Can I Keep From Singing? That is a rather fitting conclusion; it sums up the evident joy these boys have not only in singing well but also in singing for sheer pleasure. Itís a very good way to round off a happy disc.

John Quinn

Track listing
Roger QUILTER (1877-1953)
Music, When Soft Voices Die [1:45]
Arvo PÄRT (b. 1945)
Vater Unser [2:36]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Fairest Isle (Address To Britain)[2:17]
Roger QUILTER (1877-1953)
Loveís Philosophy [1:41]
Gabriel JACKSON (b. 1962)
The Land Of Spices [5:35]
Howard SKEMPTON (b. 1947)
Whispers [3:49]
Lťo DELIBES (1836-1891)
O Salutaris Hostia [2:39]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Ex Ore Innocentium [3:20]
Philip WILBY (b. 1949)
The Flower [3:12]
Richard Rodney BENNETT (b. 1936)
A Song At Evening [3:31]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)/Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Ave Maria [2:42]
Nymphs And Shepherds [1:44]
James MACMILLAN (b. 1959)
Dutch Carol [1:38]
Trad. (arr.Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958))
I Will Give My Love An Apple [1:37]
Linden Lea [2:30]
Dirge For Fidele [3:27]
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
Somewhere [2:39]
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Sure On This Shining Night [2:39]
Robert LOWRY (1826-1899), arr. Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
At The River [2:28]
John TAVENER (b. 1944), arr. Barry ROSE (b. 1934)
The Lordís Prayer [2:27]
Wedding Introit [3:08]
Patrick HADLEY (1899-1973)
I Sing Of A Maiden [2:15]
trad., arr. Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
Skye Boat Song [2:49]
Robert LOWRY arr. John SCOTT (b. 1956)
How Can I Keep From Singing? [4:01]



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