Harry BRAMMA (b. 1936)
The Church Music of Dr. Harry Bramma
Alleluya. This is the day (2009) [7:45]
The souls of the righteous (1987, rev. 2005) [3:31]
O salutaris hostia (1999) [1:42]
Tantum ergo Sacramentum (1999) [3:03]
Benedicite, omnia opera (2010) [11:11]
O salutaris hostia (2005) [1:44]
Tantum ergo Sacramentum (2005) [3:03]
It is high time to awake out of sleep [2:45]
People, look East [2:04]
God is light. A sequence for Candlemas (1982) [2:55]
I will go unto the altar of God [5;25]
I will receive the cup of salvation [4;22]
Be filled with the spirit (1989) [1:10]
The Kontakion of the Departed [3:39]
Late have I loved thee [2:52]
The Choir of All Saints, Margaret Street, London/Paul Brough.
Henry Parkes (organ)
rec. 18-19 March 2011, All Saints, Margaret Street. DDD
English Texts and Latin texts; English translations included
PRIORY PRCD1060 [58:49]
Harry Bramma has been a most influential figure in English church music over the last five decades. His career is detailed in the note by Nicholas Frayling that accompanies this CD, the main points of which I’ll summarise. After studies at Oxford University he embarked on a teaching career but his life took a decisively different turn in 1963 when Christopher Robinson, then the Organist of Worcester Cathedral, invited him to become his Assistant. Two years later Bramma also became Director of Music at the King’s School, Worcester. His work there and at the cathedral - and that of Christopher Robinson - was instrumental in the development of what was, by any standards, a pretty exceptional cohort of students at the school at that time, including Nicholas Cleobury, Stephen Cleobury, Andrew Millington, Jonathan Nott, Adrian Partington and Geoffrey Webber, as well as others who have also gone on to have distinguished musical careers. Bramma went to Southwark Cathedral as Organist and Director of Music in 1976 from whence he moved in 1989 to become Director of the Royal School of Church Music, retiring in 1998. It appears that his retirement has been anything but quiet for his has continued to compose and, it seems, regularly pops up in church organ lofts in London as a welcome guest organist. The booklet contains a substantial list of the names of colleagues, friends and former students who have helped to underwrite the production of this disc; the list in itself speaks volumes for Bramma’s beneficial influence.
During his period as Director of the RSCM Bramma served as Organist and Director of Music of All Saints, Margaret Street, believing strongly that someone in his position at the RSCM ought to have regular involvement in church music at the “sharp end”: what a wise thought! So it’s highly appropriate that his former choir should have been the one to record this selection of his church music. In fact no less than seven of the pieces in this programme were composed for the choir while three more were written for the choir of Southwark Cathedral.
The music included here was all written between 1982 and 2010. It is, without exception, very well crafted and falls pleasingly on the ear. Bramma clearly has deep experience and understanding of church choirs and their role in the liturgy. Moreover, it’s evident that he has a fine feel for the import of words in the liturgy. There is a discriminating choice of texts in the programme of this CD. I was struck also by the expert way in which in a couple of the works Bramma selected words from a number of religious texts - mainly from scripture or hymns - and weaves them together into a satisfying and seamless whole. Prime examples of this facility are to be found in Alleluya. This is the day and I will go unto the altar of God.
Among other pieces that I particularly admired was I will receive the cup of salvation. This is primarily a setting of a poem by St. Teresa of Avila and it’s lovely. I was equally impressed by The souls of the righteous. The words, from the Book of Wisdom, are wonderful and Bramma responds to them with eloquent music. The Benedicite was written for inclusion on this disc. The canticle is extensive and varied in its imagery and it’s a challenge for a composer to let his music move, as it were, with the frequently changing images. It seems to me that Bramma’s music reflects the varying aspects of this exhortation to praise very successfully. Some of the choral writing sounds pretty challenging - without access to scores and relying on the ear alone, I fancy this may be the most difficult piece to master on the disc but Paul Brough’s well-schooled choir surmounts all its difficulties with seeming ease.
Most of the pieces include organ accompaniment. One that doesn’t, unsurprisingly, is The Kontakion of the Departed, Bramma’s own arrangement for mixed choir of Kiev chant. Another a cappella setting is It is high time to awake out of sleep, an Advent introit. Here Bramma manages to reflect the prayer’s movement from darkness towards the light most effectively in a short space of time.
Late have I loved thee, a gently radiant setting of well-known words of St. Augustine, makes a very satisfying conclusion to the programme.
The choir is not large - 4 sopranos, two altos, 2 tenors and three basses - but they sing well and sensitively. When required to do so - for example, towards the end of Alleluya. This is the day - they can produce a good body of sound. Paul Brough, a highly experienced choral conductor, has clearly trained them well. Henry Parkes plays the church’s four-manual Harrison & Harrison organ. The instrument was installed in 1910 though I believe it has undergone some re-modelling over the years. It’s clearly a fine organ and Parkes makes the most of its resources. All Saints is a Victorian Gothic church completed in 1859. I don’t know how large it is but this recording suggests it has good acoustics; the sound is very good.
This CD is a fine tribute to an influential figure in the recent story of English church music. All the music on it was new to me but I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to discover it in these excellent recordings.
A fine tribute to an influential figure in the recent story of English church music.