The English Anthem Collection
Magdalen College Choir, Oxford/John Harper
rec. Magdalen College Chapel, 1983-88
Full track-listing at end of review
ALTO ALC 4001 [4 CDs: 77:02 + 71:33 + 72:49 + 76:25]
This four-disc set charts the English Anthem through five centuries. The discs are arranged broadly chronologically, with disc one taking us from Tallis to Purcell, disc two, Purcell through to Wesley and Stainer, disc three, covering the Golden Renaissance of English music with Parry and Stanford, Ireland, Vaughan Williams Finzi, Holst and Howells, and the final disc taking us to the present day with Harvey, via Walton, Leighton and Britten. Yet the music is not presented in exact order of composition; rather thought has been given to how the works sit with each other, and a pleasing solution has been found that works well programmatically. These recordings were made in the 1980s when Harper was organist and choirmaster at Magdalen.
I found the first two works on the first disc rather dull (Byrd’s O Lord turn Thy wrath and Teach me, O Lord), yet the performances start to liven up by the time we reach the third piece (again Byrd), Exalt thyself, O God. I was very pleasantly surprised by the excellent soloist in Morley’s ensuing Out of the Deep. The boys sing well, although their sound has a breathy tone, and the performance in general is mannered; enunciation is, regrettably, not particularly good. I found that with the first disc the overall, dense, texture weighs the performances down too much. Bearing in mind that the contrapuntal nature of these works is one of the primary facets of interest, far greater clarity in the individual lines is needed, as is firmer attack and greater concision – this is too much of a wash of sound. For this reason, the second, third and fourth discs are much more successful – with more solos and fewer voices. The sound is less heavy and clogged, and the music is allowed to shine through. On disc two I was particularly impressed by the opening Purcell Hear my Prayer, in which the Choir capture an excellent sense of the lugubrious and a superb build-up of tension. Also outstanding is Boyce’s O where shall wisdom be found, which is beautifully and delicately performed. We do have the occasional oddity, though, such as the rather manic vibrato in the opening solo of Wesley’s The Wilderness.
The third and fourth discs keep up the high standard. I would have liked a little more cohesion in the ensemble of Stanford’s The Lord’s my shepherd, but the same work contains some pleasingly well-graded dynamics. The performance of Parry’s My soul, there is a country is outstanding for its understated quality. It is completely free from the histrionics that one often finds associated with performances of this work. Disc three also contains a gorgeous rendition of Finzi’s Welcome, sweet and sacred feast, while the choir’s rendition of Holst’s The Evening Watch also delighted me – well communicated, with pleasantly secure intonation and good atmosphere. It is worth noting that the Holst works extremely well for male and boys voices only; Hilary Davan Wetton’s excellent version on Hyperion uses mixed voices.
The double-disc set of discs one and two contains the programme notes. The booklet for discs three and fours features the track listings and timings. None of the texts are reproduced anywhere at all. The notes trace the history of the English anthem and are well-written and interesting. The presentation and artwork is a little clunky and “home-grown”. Another quirk is that the back inlay of discs one and two is upside down. The heretical fact that Vaughan Williams’s name is wrongly spelt also leads one to slightly regret a lack of care on the part of the booklet designer / proof-reader / producer.
Nevertheless, this set contains some very fine performances – particularly of the early twentieth century works. It makes fascinating listening especially for anyone interested in the development of music.

Em Marshall-Luck

Some very fine performances – makes for fascinating listening.

Full Track-Listing

  The English Anthem Collection
CD l
William BYRD O Lord turn Thy wrath [8.16]
William BYRD Teach me, O Lord [3.39]
William BYRD Exalt thyself, O God [4.43]
Thomas MORLEY Out of the Deep [3.56]
Thomas MORLEY Nolo mortem peccatoris [2.58]
FANNER The Lord's Prayer [1.39]
Richard FARRANT Hide not thy face [1.40]
Philip VAN WILDER: Blessed art Thou [3.02]
Christopher TYE I will exalt Thee [5.46]
Thomas TALLIS I call and cry to Thee [3.46]
Thomas TALLIS Purge me, O Lord [1.56]
Thomas TALLIS O Lord, give Thy Holy Spirit [1.45]
John SHEPPARD The Lord's Prayer [3.50]
William BYRD Sing joyfully unto God [3.05]
Orlando GIBBONS O Lord in Thy wrath [3.16]
Orlando GIBBONS O Lord, I lift my heart to Thee [1.48]
Thomas WEELKES Hosanna to the Son of David [2.09]
Thomas WEELKES O Lord, arise [3.16]
Thomas TOMKINS Then David mourned [3.18]
Thomas TOMKINS O praise the Lord, all ye Heathen [4.09]
John BLOW My God, my God, look upon me [4.34]
Henry PURCELL I was glad [4.21]
CD 2
Henry PURCELL Hear my prayer (O Lord) [2.22]
Henry PURCELL O God, Thou has cast us out [4.10]
Henry PURCELL Remember not, O Lord [3.07]
William CROFT God is gone up [4.20]
Maurice GREENE Lord, let me know mine end [6.12]
William BOYCE O where shall wisdom be found [7.04]
Jonathan BATTISHILL Lord, look down from Heaven [4.12]
Thomas ATTWOOD Come Holy Ghost [3.33]
Samuel S. WESLEY Blessed be the God and Father [8.14]
Frederick OUSELEY Is it nothing to you? [3.03]
Frederick OUSELEY O Saviour of the world [2.47]
Samuel S. WESLEY The wilderness [14.39]
John STAINER I saw the Lord [7.44]
CD 3
Charles V. STANFORD The Lord's my shepherd [10.33]
Charles V. STANFORD Glorious and powerful God [4.41]
Hubert PARRY My soul, there is a country [3.58]
Charles WOOD O Thou, the central orb [4.48]
Charles WOOD Hail, gladdening light [3.10]
Charles WOOD Expectans expectavi [4.18]
William BAIRSTOW Blessed City, heavenly Salem [9.48]
Edward BAIRSTOW Let all mortal flesh keep silence [3.25]
John IRELAND Greater love hath no man [6.14]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Whitsunday hymn [3.51]
Gerald FINZI Welcome, sweet and sacred feast [8.05]
Gustav HOLST The Evening Watch [4.15]
Herbert HOWELLS Like as the hart [5.37]
CD 4
William WALTON Set me as a seal [3.20]
Haldane STEWART King of Glory, King of Peace [3.45]
Bernard ROSE Praise ye the Lord [2.36]
John JOUBERT O Lord, the maker of all thing [3.39]
Benjamin BRITTEN Hymn to St. Peter [5.36]
William Henry HARRIS Bring us, O Lord God [3.20]
Jonathan HARVEY Come, Holy Ghost [6.47]
Jonathan HARVEY The Tree [4.12]
Herbert HOWELLS Thee will I love [5.40]
Herbert HOWELLS Come, my soul [4.11]
Lennox BERKELEY Thou hast made me [6.22]
John TAVENER Hymn to the Mother of God [3.26]
Richard Rodney BENNETT Verses I [1.41]
Richard Rodney BENNETT Verses II [2.10]
Richard Rodney BENNETT Verses III [2.33]
John HARPER Salve Regina [4.37]
John HARPER Ubi caritas [4.11]
Kenneth LEIGHTON Drop, drop, slow tears [3.01]
Kenneth LEIGHTON Give me the wings of faith [5.08]