Songbook - A Choral Concert from Tewkesbury Abbey
Roger QUILTER (1877-1953) Music, When Soft Voices Die [1:45]
Arvo PART (b.1935) Vater Unser [2:36]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695) Fairest Isle (Address To Britain) [2:17]
Roger QUILTER (1877-1953) Love's Philosophy [1:41]
Gabriel JACKSON (b.1962) The Land Of Spices [5:35]
Howard SKEMPTON (b.1947) Whispers [3:49]
Leo DELIBES (1836-1891) Salutaris Hostia [2:30]
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) Ave Maria [2:42]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695) 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]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) 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) At the River [2:28]
John TAVENER (b.1944), arr. Barry ROSE (b.1934) The Lord's Prayer [2:27]
James MACMILLAN (b.1959) 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 (1826-1899), arr, John SCOTT (b1956) How Can I Keep From Singing? [4:01]
The trebles of Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum/Benjamin Nicholas
Helen Porter (piano), Carleton Etherington (organ)
rec. Merton College Chapel, Oxford, 5-7 July 2010
DELPHIAN DCD34097 [66:42]
I was rather disappointed by this disc given an interesting-looking programme and my soft spot for boys’ choirs! To begin with, I was put off by the disposition of the disc notes to be overly fawning over director Benjamin Nicholas. With direct, interview-style quotations from him, it seemed more like a fan report for a magazine than a programme note.
Nicholas explains, in the notes, that the remit of the disc was to comprise not only the sacred choral works that one would expect to hear from the boys, but also solo and secular works that might feature in concerts.
The disc therefore opens with Roger Quilter’s beautiful Music, When Soft Voices Die, with eleven-year-old Laurence Kilsby - BBC Chorister of the Year in 2009. Yet the performance is too mannered, too slow, with the regrettable result that it comes across as dreary, and lacks its usual beauty and wistfulness. In Love’s Philosophy, another Quilter gem, one finds Kilsby trying to sing too prettily but with no communication, and no sincerity of expression. One feels sorry for him; he has clearly been instructed to produce the most beautiful sound possible, yet whose tender years allow him no insight into the meaning or import of the words he is singing. Later on, Bach’s Ave Maria is rather unevenly sung, and Kilsby’s voice come across as tired; the sound is rather restricted and lacking in purity. One wonders whether he might have been pushed too far.
As for the whole choir – Patrick Hadley’s gorgeous I Sing of a Maiden is well-sung, and James MacMillan’s impressive Dutch Carol is also given an excellent performance - more lively and characterful than many of the other works here. On the other hand Purcell’s Fairest Isle deeply disappoints – there is no sense of flow, or of understanding or communication of the words. The intonation is a little ropey; the phrasing poor, and, with entirely homogenous beats, there is little sense of pulse or direction. The blend of sound throughout is not particularly good – some boys sing with vibrato, whilst others don’t, for instance, and there is further imbalance in terms of the sound and volume. The diction and enunciation also leave something to be desired - in Vaughan Williams’s Linden Lea, “Linden” comes across as “Liden”; whilst in other places the rolling “Rs” are far too contrived.
One cannot censure the boys themselves, but, on the whole, one feels that this disc is something of a missed opportunity.

Em Marshall-Luck
On the whole something of a missed opportunity.