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A Year at York
see end of review for track listing
The Choir of York Minster/Robert Sharpe
David Pipe (organ)
rec. York Minster, 12-13, 18-19 January 2011 DDD
Texts and English translations included
REGENT REGCD368 [76:54]

Experience Classicsonline

The idea behind this programme is a good one. The music traces the Church’s year, taking in all the important dates in the liturgical calendar - one piece for each - including one or two that are of particular significance to York itself. Thus we move from Advent (Naylor), through Epiphany (Carter), Easter (Francis Jackson), and Trinity (Stainer) to All Saints (Bullock) and All Souls (Gabriel Jackson). Along the way Alcuin of York is commemorated by Humphrey Clucas and St. William of York by John Taverner.
I’ve heard and admired several recordings that Robert Sharpe made while he was at Truro Cathedral but this is the first disc that I’ve heard since his move to York in 2008, though he’s made at least two previous recordings at York that have not come my way. York Minster has had both girl and boy choristers since 1997 and one or other section takes the treble line on a regular basis along with the Songmen, as the adult singers are styled. For this recording 18 boy trebles and twenty girls are listed along with four tenors and five each of basses and male altos. I am pretty sure that Robert Sharpe inherited a choir in good shape from his predecessor, Philip Moore. The York choir had a strong reputation during Moore’s time in office (1983-2008). On the evidence of this disc the choir continues to be in very good fettle under the Sharpe regime.
Robert Sharpe has chosen a programme of music that is packed with York connections - though there’s no narrow parochial sentiment in the choice; each piece more than justifies its place on merit. It would almost be quicker to list the pieces that don’t have a York association. Pride of place, as regards association, must go to the previous Organists of the Minster, Edward Bairstow (1913-1946), Francis Jackson (1946-1982) and Philip Moore. Between them they account for a staggering ninety-four years of service to the Minster, a truly remarkable stability. Andrew Carter was a Songman at the Minster but is, perhaps, better known - apart from his compositions - as the first conductor of the York Chapter House Choir, which he directed for 17 years. George Haynes is a current Songman, an alto, and sings on this CD. Richard Shephard was Headmaster of the York Minster School, which the choristers attend, for many years until 2004 and still works for the Minster. Edward Naylor almost gets into the list of Minster alumni too because his father was organist there between 1883 and 1897. Besides these links, a couple of other pieces were written for the York Minster choir. These are the pieces by Paul Comeau and Humphrey Clucas. As I say, there’s no parochialism in the selection: the Minster and its musicians have clearly inspired some fine music down the years.
Among the items that particularly impressed me was The Magi by Andrew Carter. This is a setting of words by Carter himself and I found it interesting and resourceful. It offers a welcome alternative to Cornelius’s too-ubiquitous The Three Kings and I hope other choirs will take it up. Paul Comeau lives and works in Cornwall and has written quite a lot of music for Truro Cathedral. No doubt this prompted Robert Sharpe to invite him to write for York. Audi coelum uses two echo singers and exploits the vast resonance of the Minster’s acoustic very imaginatively. I was very taken with Francis Jackson’s Easter piece, Alleluia, laudate pueri dominum. This double choir piece was written not for the Minster choir but for Andrew Carter and the Chapter House Choir and is described in the notes as being akin to “a fanfare greeting the Resurrection”. Though the piece is short it’s vital and blazing and the present performance has tremendous gusto. The thoughtful Clucas piece that follows, written for the Minster during the Philip Moore era, offers a good contrast with the exuberance of the Jackson. Gabriel Jackson’s Justorum animae closes the programme. This was new to me - it’s one of several works receiving its first recording - but it’s very typical of this composer in that it takes a wonderful, resonant text and cloaks it in luminous music, expertly written for voices. O sacrum convivium by George Haynes, a current member of the Minster choir, also demands a mention. This is an impressive piece, mainly devotional in tone but there’s good strength in the writing at ‘mens impletur gratia’.
Among the more standard repertoire, Stanford’s lovely Magnificat receives a splendid performance. I’ve always thought this is an appropriately feminine setting but I can’t readily recall hearing too many recordings in which the famous treble solo is sung by a girl soprano. Here, the task is entrusted to Isabel Suckling who is simply outstanding. Her voice is clear and pure and listening to her solo singing was a delight. The very first piece, Naylor’s dramatic, declamatory anthem, is delivered strongly and with great conviction by the choir though it seemed to me that once or twice the boy trebles were rather taxed by Naylor’s demanding writing. There’s a robust account of the Ascensiontide anthem by Philips while Tallis’s exquisite If ye love me is persuasively shaped.
The choir’s singing is very good and responsive throughout the programme; evidently they’ve been thoroughly prepared by Robert Sharpe. Most of the pieces are unaccompanied but where accompaniment is prescribed the Minster’s Assistant Director of Music, David Pipe, delivers the goods. York Minster is a huge building with an acoustic to match. The resonance and the sheer size of the acoustic is evident right from the start during the rests and dramatic pauses in the Naylor piece. The acoustic is a factor throughout the programme but I think the engineers have coped very well with it and the sound gives a realistic aural image of what this choir sounds like on their home turf. The excellent booklet notes incorporate comments on their respective pieces by several of the composers. One slight regret I have is that where a translation of a text is provided this follows the original rather than the two being placed side by side, which would be easier to follow.
Some forty years ago I had the good fortune to spend three years as an undergraduate in York. This CD made me nostalgic for one of Britain’s greatest historic cities and for the glorious Minster, which I still regard as the finest medieval church building in the country. However, it’s not nostalgia that makes me think this is a fine disc. The high standards of the music and the performances see to that. This programming concept is a very good one and I believe that further such recordings, from other cathedrals, may be in prospect. If they’re of a comparable standard they will be very welcome indeed.
John Quinn

Track listing
Edward Naylor (1867-1934)
Vox dicentes clama (1911) [8:20]
Paul COMEAU (b. 1958)
Audi coelum (2009)[4:45]
John JOUBERT (b. 1927)
There is no rose [2:24]
Andrew CARTER (b. 1939)
The Magi (2010) [3:35]
Richard SHEPHARD (b. 1949)
Nunc Dimittis in A (In memoriam Lionel Dakers) (2003) [1:57]
Philip MOORE (b. 1943)
Caedmon of Whitby’s First Hymn (1999) [2:21]
John BLOW (1649-1708)
Salvator mundi [3:27]
Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Magnificat in G [4:05]
Sir Edward BAIRSTOW (1874-1946)
The Lamentation (as sung in York Minster) [7:53]
Francis JACKSON (b. 1917)
Alleluia, laudate pueri dominum (1971) [3:52]
Humphrey CLUCAS (b. 1941)
A Prayer of Alcuin of York [2:32]
Peter PHILIPS (1561-1628)
Ascendit Deus (1612) [2:33]
Thomas TALLIS (c. 1505-1585)
If ye love me [2:08]
Sir John STAINER (1840-1901)
I saw the Lord (1858) [7:28]
George HAYNES (b. 1989)
O sacrum convivium (2010) [4:39]
John TAVERNER (c. 1490-1545)
O Wilhelme pastor bone [3:17]
Howard SKEMPTON (b. 1947)
Ave Virgo sanctissima (2007) [2:33]
Richard DERING (c 1580-1630)
Factum est silentium [2:51]
Sir Ernest BULLOCK (1890-1979)
Give us the wings of faith [2:50]
Gabriel JACKSON (b. 1962)
Justorum animae (2009) [3:42]