O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing: 18th Century Gallery Hymns
And can it be? [3:46]
As pants the heart [2:26]
Lo he comes with clouds descending [3:37]
O Worship the King [3:25]
Away with our sorrow and care [3:15]
Arise and hail the joyful day [2:44]
Hail happy morn [2:16]
Awake and join the cheerful choir [2:54]
See heaven's high portals [2:55]
Awake, awake ye mortals all [2:11]
While shepherds watched [2:53]
Behold the morning star [2:09]
The musical lovers [1:46]
Arise and hail the sacred day [3:05]
Rejoice this glorious day is come [4:41]
Christ the Lord is ris'n today [3:14]
Light of the world [3:46]
All hail the pow'r of Jesus' name [4:01]
O for a thousand tongues to sing [3:47]
Who would true valour see [3:06]
Maddy Prior and The Carnival Band, The Mellstock Band
Rec. no information supplied
REGIS RRC 1338 [62:20]

As the brief but interesting booklet notes tells us, it was during the eighteenth-century that hymns as we knew them first developed out of the previous tradition of singings psalms to a very restricted number of tunes. Hymns flourished both in terms of the words, which were no longer exclusively drawn from the Bible and became more expressive, allowing for a personal relationship with God. The melodies blossomed into ones swifter-paced, accessible and tuneful, sometimes owing something to popular secular works. The new and melodious tunes of hymns were due in large part to the Methodist movement. The hymns were accompanied by a small group of local musicians situated in the West Gallery of the church, hence the appellation, Gallery Hymns.

This disc is fascinating, offering, as it does, new perspectives on some very well-known hymn tunes. The performances are “authentic” – with rustic voices - on occasion too much so! - and instruments, and good rhythmic alterations according to textural phrasing. There is also much finesse in terms of decoration and melodic invention in the harmonies. The downside of the “authentic” performances is that the hymns often feature very high female voice lines and descants. These come over as rather screeching, and this soon becomes wearing. I was surprised both at the lack of instrument/player listings in the notes, and also at the apparent lack of a serpent, an instrument which was the backbone of local music-making and would, surely, have been a regular feature of West Galleries.

I was puzzled, also, by the rendition of Arise and hail the joyful day – where it sounds as though the principal melodic line is missing, with just upper and lower harmonies being sung in its stead.

Nevertheless – an intriguing release, and another credit to Maddy Prior, and the Mellstock and Carnival Bands.

Em Marshall-Luck

An intriguing release.