These, I fancy, must have been the first recordings that Andrew
Nethsingha made with the St. John’s College choir after
arriving at the college as Director of Music in autumn 2007.
They’ve been ‘in the can’ for quite a while
- since before their contract with Chandos came into effect
- and I wonder why this interesting programme, which contains
some unusual repertoire, has not been issued earlier. It’s
good that the college has brought it out under its own imprint.
There’s one slight disappointment - and puzzle. I’m
unsure why Andrew Nethsingha has chosen to record A Ceremony
of Carols in the SATB arrangement that Julius Harrison made
in 1955 at the request of the publishers, Boosey & Hawkes.
I can understand why the arrangement was made in order to bring
the work within the scope of adult choirs but it never seems
to me to work as well as the original trebles-only version.
With the adult voices, even when they’re as skilled as
here, one loses something of the intimacy and innocence that
boys’ voices alone bring to the score. I’m sure
the St. John’s trebles would have given a very good account
of these carols. Nonetheless, if one wants to hear the work
in this version then this performance is a good one. To be fair,
recordings of the work in its SATB guise are far less frequent
than recordings of the original version, which may explain why
the arrangement was chosen here.
Leonard Bernstein conceived his Chichester Psalms for
all-male chorus and it’s good to hear it done that way;
the accompaniment is provided in the composer’s own reduction
for harp, organ and percussion. Andrew Nethsingha leads an excellent
performance. The unnamed treble soloist in the second movement
does very well. In the third movement, after Léon Charles
has given a very good account of the extended organ introduction,
the choral section flows beautifully. The melody in this part
of the work is one of Bernstein’s finest inspirations
and the present performance is very polished as, indeed, is
the performance of the entire work.
The remainder of the programme takes us into less well-charted
territory. Otčenáš is a setting of the
Lord’s Prayer in Moravian which Janáček composed
in 1901. Originally written for accompaniment by piano and harmonium,
the composer revised it for harp and organ, as heard here, in
1906. The music is quite folk-influenced and, to my ears, contains
some pre-echoes of the Glagolitic Mass, not least in
the often ardent writing for the tenor soloist. The solo role
is a demanding one in terms of the tessitura and Justin Lavender
does a fine job. Indeed, since the retirement of John Mitchinson
I’ve not heard a British tenor capable of doing real justice
to the tenor solo part in the Glagolitic Mass and listening
to Mr Lavender here makes me wonder if he could be the man.
It’s a good piece and a most enterprising choice. I’m
delighted that it’s been included here.
This enterprise extends to the two instrumental items. I’ve
heard William Mathias’s short, three-movement Improvisations
for solo harp before. How fitting that a Welsh composer should
create such an interesting and effective work for the harp.
I love the rippling first movement and the pithy little dance
with which the suite concludes. In between comes a more elusive
and inward looking slow movement which, as Jeremy Summerly rightly
observes, is the heart of the work. Frances Kelly makes an excellent
job of this work. The music - and name - of Marcel Grandjany
was completely new to me. A Frenchman, who lived in the USA
from 1926 onwards, teaching at the Juilliard School from 1938
until his death, Jeremy Summerly tells us that he established
an international reputation as a harp virtuoso. From a little
internet research it seems that, unsurprisingly, most of his
compositions were for his own instrument. However, I’ve
been unable to establish when the Aria in Classic Style
was composed. Jeremy Summerly aptly describes the work, which
also exists in a version for harp and orchestra, as a “neo-Baroque
gem”. He also comments that the work is underpinned by
the spirit of Bach. It’s a winning little piece, which
I enjoyed very much. The combination of harp and organ works
well, certainly on disc, not least because the organ part is
Everything about this disc is good. The repertoire is interesting
and enterprising; the performance standards are consistently
high; the recorded sound is very good; and the booklet notes
by Jeremy Summerly are exemplary. This is a most welcome release.
Discography & review index: Britten's
Ceremony of carols