Angelic Voices - The Sound of the Boy Treble
Peter Davey, Robin Blaze, Dara Carroll, Andrew Wicks, Michael Criswell, Andrew Brough, Christopher Smith, Timothy Angel and Robert Fowkes (boy trebles)
rec. originally by Harry Mudd for Alpha and Abbey, 1964-1989
CD leaflet with introduction and notes about the singers in English
Full contents listing at end of review
REGIS RRC1379 [78.24]
The voice of the boy treble has a long tradition in Britain. It spans a few centuries but it is not limited to this country. Think of Austria that boasts the famous Wiener Sängerknaben. However, the existence and popularity of boy trebles can be traced much further back than just four or five centuries. It probably originated with Saint Paul’s statement that women should be silent in churches. As this became the norm, then who could sing in the church? The obvious answer was men but the adult male voice lacks the beautiful pure, clear and innocent sound associated with the idea of angels. Therefore, to have that angelic quality, which the faithful believed was necessary to reach God’s ears, the Church turned to children, meaning young boys before their voices broke. So the boy treble tradition began!
As the author of the CD notes, Hugo Shirley, notes Angelic Voices is an important collection. Not only does it include a wealth of singing by boy trebles but it also gives the listener the opportunity to sample a tradition that is very much on the wane. I would tend to agree. There is indeed a wealth of singing by boy trebles on this disc, captured during a period of approximately 25 years (1964-1989). It not only showcases the generic beauty of the sound of the boy treble but also the specific qualities and skills of each of the featured singers. We hear in total the voices of nine boys; some considerably more often than others.
Angelic Voices opens with three tracks sung by Peter Davey. He was a chorister at Chichester Cathedral from 1977 and became head chorister in 1981. He sings the traditional Morning has Broken, followed by Gounod’s Ave Maria and Fauré’s Pie Jesu. He sings all three effectively but while his singing was undoubtedly appealing, his voice was to my mind a tad too soft, giving the (possibly wrong) impression that he was reticent about singing at full power. Davey is followed by Robin Blaze who sings Love bade me welcome by Vaughan Williams, the third of the composer’s Five Mystical Songs. Sadly, Blaze only appears once in the whole CD. I say sadly because to me his voice is the most beautiful of them all, with a warm, crystal-clear tone, which immediately touches the heart. His rendition is supreme and it made me go back and play it for a second time.
The majority of the pieces are then distributed amongst the next two singers: Dara Carroll, tracks 5 to 9, and Andrew Wicks tracks 10 to 19. Carroll possessed a delightful voice, with a beautiful crystalline quality. All the pieces he sings are exceptionally well sung - in particular Bach’s Flocks in pastures green and Dowland’s Come again. Although I preferred the voices of Blaze and Carroll, I must say that it is Wicks who undoubtedly shines in this collection. This is not merely because he appears more than the others but because this boy, in his day, was truly remarkable. Like Peter Davey, Andrew Wicks was a chorister at Chichester Cathedral. He became head chorister in 1976 and released a solo album in the same year. Wicks’ exceptional knowledge of music and voice technique are patent throughout. He sings with a great sense ease. This level of skill was perhaps not so common among choir boys in general and was certainly unusual for a 13 year old boy. His singing is assured, mature and refined. All the pieces are delivered with clarity, spotless technique and excellent understanding. What impressed me the most however was Wicks’ remarkable skill with languages. He is naturally fluent in English but I had to admire his Italian in Mozart’s Voi che sapete and, most of all, his German in Schubert’s Heidenröslein and Die Forelle.
Andrew Wicks is a tough act to follow and so, when Michael Criswell appears on track 20, one could be forgiven for having a feeling of anti-climax! Nevertheless, Criswell sings four pieces, all in English, exceptionally well. His voice was pleasing and warm but to me a little less expressive than Carroll and especially Wicks.
The CD finishes with two duets Vivaldi’s Laudamus te and Bach’s Jesu, Joy of man’s desiring, sung respectively by Andrew Brough / Christopher Smith and Timothy Angel / Robert Fowkes. The four boys do a sterling job and conclude the recording in a suitably attractive manner.
Angelic Voices, The Sound of the Boy Treble is an interesting rather than amazing collection. To me its appeal lies in the well documented historical recording of the voice of the boy treble and in the undoubtedly natural beauty of some of the voices. The sound quality is excellent in most cases but it differs from singer to singer, possibly because the recordings were made at different times and the digital re-mastering used originals with different levels of quality. This was done by Paul Arden-Taylor at Dinmore Records.
Whether people are going to buy large numbers of this CD or not may well depend on one’s love for either the voices or the historical value. If none of these aspects appeals to you, then consider acquiring it simply because it includes many beautiful pieces. They are all exceptionally well sung.
Margarida Mota-Bull
Margarida writes more than just reviews, check this online at 

Exceptionally well sung.

Full Track Listing:

Traditional Morning has Broken
J. S. BACH (1685-1750) / Charles GOUNOD (1818/1893) Ave Maria
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924) Pie Jesu
Peter Davey (boy treble)
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Love bade me welcome (Five Mystical Songs)
Robin Blaze (boy treble)
J. S. BACH (1685-1750) Flocks in pastures green
John DOWLAND (1563-1626) Can she excuse my wrongs, Come again
English Folk Songs Flowers in the valley, Strawberry fair
Dara Carroll (boy treble)
Traditional Irish The lark in the clear air, Trottin' to the fair
Traditional English The tailor and the mouse
Rutland BOUGHTON (1878-1960) Faery Song
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976) The Birds
Ludwig SPOHR (1784-1859) Zwiegesang
W. A. MOZART (1756-1791) Voi che sapete (Il nozze di Figaro)
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Heidenröslein, Die Forelle
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) O for the wings of a dove
Andrew Wicks (boy treble)
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695) Christ is made the sure foundation
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) How beautiful are the feet
Henry LAWES (1595-1662) Gather ye rosebuds
Thomas MORLEY (1507-1602) It was a lover and his lass
Michael Criswell (boy treble)
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) Laudamus Te
Andrew Brough and Christopher Smith (boy trebles)
J. S. BACH (1685-1750) Jesu, Joy of man's desiring
Timothy Angel and Robert Fowkes (boy trebles)