Haec Dies - Byrd and the Tudor Revival
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Whitsunday Hymn (1930) [3:48]
Sir William HARRIS (1883-1973)
Eternal Ruler (1930) [2:43]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
Man born to toil (1927) [4:35]
Thomas TALLIS (1505-1585)
Funeral Music (arr. Geoffrey & Martin Shaw, 1915) [3:34]
Percy WHITLOCK (1903-1946)
O living Bread, who once didst die (1930) [3:19]
Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
Up to those bright and gladsome hills (1925) [4:20]
William BYRD (1539/40-1623)
Mass for Five Voices [23:07]
Fantasia in C (arr. J.E. Borland, 1907) [6:49]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
A Hymn to the Virgin (1930, rev. 1934) [3:27]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
Haec Dies (1918) [2:42]
Robert PEARSALL (1795-1856)
Tu es Petrus (1840/54) [2:29]
Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Lord, thou hast told us (1931) [2:21]
Master Tallis’s Testament (1940) [7:28]
The Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge/Geoffrey Webber
Annie Lydford and Nick Lee (organ)
rec. 8-10 July 2010, Worksop College Chapel. DDD
English texts, Latin texts and English translations included
DELPHIAN DCD34104 [70:54]
This latest disc from Geoffrey Webber and The Choir of Gonville & Caius College is valuable in several ways. Firstly, the concept of the programme itself is fascinating in demonstrating the impact of Tudor music on English composers of subsequent generations, especially in the first half of the twentieth century. Dr. Webber’s excellent booklet notes are a model of their kind in discussing this succinctly and clearly. Secondly, in choosing the music for his programme Geoffrey Webber has ranged widely and while some of the pieces - those by Britten and Howells, for instance - are familiar other pieces will be much less well known, even, perhaps, to admirers of their respective composers. Thirdly, the performances are all right up to the high standards we have come to expect from this choir so the disc is not only most interesting but also highly enjoyable.
As I say, quite a lot of this music is fairly unfamiliar and its inclusion is as welcome as it is enterprising. The offerings from Harris, Holst, Whitlock and Finzi were all new to me, as far as I can remember. There may not be any neglected masterpieces here but without exception the unfamiliar pieces are all well worth hearing. There are also a couple of items that appear in unfamiliar guises. Pearsall’s Tu es Petrus turns out to be an 1854 liturgical revision of his well-known 1840 madrigal Lay a garland. The Funeral Music by Tallis is an adaptation for the modern organ by the Shaw brothers of his celebrated ‘Third Tune’. This is the same tune that Vaughan Williams took as the basis for his Tallis Fantasia and, indeed, what we hear on this disc, expertly played by Annie Lydford, sounds a bit like a reduced version of RVW’s masterpiece. The spur to the Shaw brothers work is poignant: they made their arrangement in 1915 to respond to the mood of national mourning in Britain as the casualties from the Great War mounted inexorably.
At the heart of the programme lies a performance of Byrd’s great Mass for Five Voices. Don’t expect a performance such as you’d get from The Tallis Scholars or a similar ensemble: Geoffrey Webber says quite openly that this is not an historically-informed performance. That may be so but the performance is sensitive and well sung. The clarity and freshness of the young student voices produce a very pleasing and skilful performance and I enjoyed it very much.
Those comments about the performance of the Byrd Mass apply to all the choral items on this disc. There are some gifted young singers in this choir and, expertly trained by Geoffrey Webber, they sing very well indeed and with evident commitment. There are quite a number of very good Oxbridge SATB choirs these days and Gonville and Caius is up with the very best of them.
The organ duties are shared between the college’s two organ scholars. Playing on the 1920s organ of Worksop College - which sounds to be a fine instrument - they add colour and presence to the pieces in which they join the choir. Each has solo items, all of which are well done. Annie Lydford does the Tallis Funeral Music and Borland’s early twentieth-century adaptation of Byrd’s piece. Nick Lee has Howells’s splendid homage to Tallis - the most interesting of the solo pieces - and makes a fine job of it.
This is one of those discs where further detailed comment is superfluous and its absence can be taken as a compliment. This is an imaginative programme, splendidly performed. The documentation is excellent, as is usually the case with Delphian. Given that it’s a Delphian release one expects high quality sound and one is not disappointed.
John Quinn
An imaginative programme, splendidly performed and recorded.