The first thing to realise is that this is a ‘concept’
album - all very trendy and popular at present. It comes in
a white hard-covered booklet with the disc tidily attached inside.
The paper is good quality and the texts are in English only
with trendy monochrome photos of the performers and of misty-moisty
mornings in Ely.
You could argue that Paul McCreesh is not new to this kind of
disc. I’m thinking particularly of his dazzlingly successful
‘A Venetian Coronation 1595’ originally on Virgin
Classics (1990). There’s also his slightly overlooked
but wonderful recording of ‘Venetian Easter Mass’
(1997) on Archiv. Whereas these earlier discs were stylistically
consistent this new one is a bit of a dog’s dinner with
Robert White rubbing shoulders with Jonathan Dove. In the accompanying
notes - which take the form of an interview between McCreesh
and Gregg Skidmore a member of the Gabrieli Consort and a Ph.D.
student - Skidmore comments that the title ‘is not especially
cheery’. Even so, McCreesh’s point is well made
that this music acts as a consolation for those who are confronting
death either personally or with a loved one - that is the power
of music. We need to “seek God’s protection from
the perils of life’s journey”.
The disc begins with two settings of Drop, Drop Slow Tears
by Gibbons and Walton. Further consolation is to be found in
MacMillan’s glorious A Child’s Prayer which
was composed after the Dunblane massacre to remember the dead.
Then we have a calm and dignified performance of Morley’s
Funeral Sentences still in use today in various churches.
A complete Requiem one of the most moving of all time
by Herbert Howells. It includes a setting of Psalm 23 sometimes
known in its hymnal guise as Crimond and used at funerals
everywhere. The text of John Sheppard’s comforting and
blissful In Manus tuas, an evening hymn includes the
lines “Into your hands O Lord I commend my spirit”.
Indeed I could go through each piece and wax lyrical. Instead
I will say that the CD could be enjoyed simply track by track,
or, and this is rarely recommendable, straight through in one
sitting, I did both and especially appreciated the latter before
retiring for a easy night’s sleep.
This appeared at first to be a self-indulgent disc by a choir
whose real expertise lies in what some people regard as rather
cerebral early music and who are out to indulge themselves in
slow, mournful and expressively unvaried pieces. In fact it
becomes a fascinating mélange of approaches to the subject
of death and of how we each face it. It should be said immediately
that the singing is exemplary and the recorded balance flawless,
set as it is in the perfect acoustic of the Chapter House at
Ely. It is good to have the texts as no matter how good the
choir, counterpoint and resonance can often smother even the
best of diction.
The longest work is the Howells. One must ask how it bears up,
coming as it does towards the end of a rather ‘weepy’
programme. There are several versions of it on the market but
can we ignore this one just because of the context of its presentation?
When I listen to this work I feel that it is the most beautiful
piece I’ve ever heard. I thought that the version by The
Finzi Singers on Chandos under Paul Spicer (CHAN 9019) was unbeatable
but this new one is certainly its equal. It is beautifully paced,
and the solo work which can be a weakness is ideal; the balance,
just lovely. I prefer it in fact, as it is unhurried and even
more expressive than Spicer being almost four minutes slower
Finally to Parry’s Songs of Farewell written towards
the end of his life. The Parry gives this disc its title. Lord
let me know mine end, the last of the set of six is rather
less well known. It’s a challenging piece. Here it is
given an emotional reading which exemplifies what McCreesh says
in his conversation: that he often exhorts professional singers
to remember, as they can become overly familiar with some texts,
to sing with passion.
So, a fine disc this. I concur with other reviewers on this
site in saying no less than ‘buy it’.
See also reviews by Nick
Barnard and John
Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1623)
Drop, Drop Slow Tears [2:00]
William WALTON (1902-1983)
A Litany: Drop, Drop Slow Tears [4:25]
Robert WHITE (c.1538-1574)
Christe, qui lux es et dies [4:29]
James MACMILLAN (b. 1959)
A Child’s Prayer [4:12]
John SHEPPARD (1515-1505)
In Manus Tuas [4:05]
Jonathan DOVE (b.
Into thy hands [8:14]
Thomas MORLEY (1557-1602)
Funeral Sentences [10:16]
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
They are at Rest [3:29]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
Sir Hubert PARRY (1848-1918)
Lord let me know mine end [11:42]