Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
The Voice out of the Whirlwind (1947) [5:23]
Valiant-for-Truth (1940) [5:32]
Mass in G minor (1921) [22:35]
Three Choral Hymns (1929) [12:55]
Nothing is here for tears (1936) [2:14]
A Vision of Aeroplanes (1956) [9:31]
The Souls of the Righteous (1947) [3:19]
A Choral Flourish (1956) [1:42]
James McVinnie and Ashok Gupta (organ)
Choir of Clare College, Cambridge/Timothy Brown
rec. Chapel of St. John’s College, Cambridge, UK, 16 July 2009 and Chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge, UK, 17 July 2009. DDD
NAXOS 8.572465 [63:11]
This disc was one of the last ones made by Timothy Brown before he retired, in July 2010, as Director of Music at Clare College. His tenure at Clare was a long one: he arrived there in 1979, succeeding John Rutter. Since then he’s developed the choir and enhanced its international reputation, not least through their many fine recordings. I recall that at the time of his retirement John Rutter, in a generous tribute on the BBC Radio 3 programme The Choir, drew particular attention to Brown’s work in performing music by contemporary composers. He said that his legacy would be “excellence and dedication to the highest standards”.
There’s ample evidence on this disc of excellence and high standards. There’s also evidence of discernment. In putting together this programme Brown has mingled the familiar and the less familiar though all have in common that they’re very well worth hearing.
Though I’m a great devotee of RVW’s music I can’t readily recall that I’ve previously heard Nothing is here for tears. It was prompted by the death of King George V and is for choir and organ. Mostly the choir sings in unison though they break out into harmony towards the end. It may not be a masterpiece but it’s effective. Even more effective is The Souls of the Righteous. This was composed for the service at which the Battle of Britain Chapel in Westminster Abbey was dedicated. The text, from the Book of Wisdom, which begin ‘The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God’ is one that I always find very moving. How much more moving must these words have been on that occasion when the scars and memories of war were so fresh in the minds of those present and when the sacrifice of The Few lay only a few years in the past? RVW sets these evocative words in a most eloquent fashion and one feels that this piece must have been just right for the occasion and for the times.
The Voice out of the Whirlwind also comes from 1947 and may be unfamiliar to many but the musical material should not be. Vaughan Williams based it on ‘The Galliard of the Sons of the Morning’ from his orchestral masterpiece, Job, A Masque for Dancing. It’s a spirited work and it’s fascinating to hear the music from Job recycled into a new guise. It culminates in a majestic organ peroration which is superbly voiced here by Ashok Gupta.
The organ is heard to even more spectacular effect in A Vision of Aeroplanes. This is a motet for choir and organ, setting words from the Prophecy of Ezekiel. So virtuosic is the organ writing that this piece might just as fairly be described as a motet for organ with choir! The organ part is fiendishly challenging, bristling with difficulties. The choir is here joined by guest, James McVinnie, who is a former organ scholar of Clare College. He dispatches the organ part with dazzling virtuosity while the choir handles RVW’s no less demanding choral writing with huge assurance. This is a vividly dramatic and thrilling performance captured in excitingly present sound.
There could scarcely be a greater contrast than that between A Vision of Aeroplanes and the serene masterpiece that sits at the heart of this programme. The Mass in G minor is one of the peaks of the English a cappella repertoire. Timothy Brown and his choir give it a wonderful reading. The serene Kyrie is beautifully done, the singing poised and controlled. All the contrasts - of mood and dynamics - are brought out in the Gloria while in a magnificent account of the Credo I particularly admired the sensitivity and control with which the Et incarnatus section is delivered. The rapt Agnus Dei sets the seal on a very fine performance indeed in which besides excellent choral singing we hear four members of the choir acting as an assured solo quartet.
Throughout this varied and contrasting programme the Clare College choir is on top form. Their discipline, tuning, intonation and balance are all beyond reproach and all the performances are full of sensitivity. All of this bespeaks scrupulous preparation. The choir makes the fresh sound of youthful and very well trained voices and it’s very pleasing to hear. In several of the items the then-Organ Scholar, Ashok Gupta, does splendid work as their accompanist.
The recorded sound is very good indeed. The choir is clearly recorded and the sound of the organ - I presume the organ of St John’s College - has been superbly captured by the engineers and balanced very well against the choir. There are very good notes by the conductor.
This disc is a fine reminder of Timothy Brown’s excellent work at Clare College.
See also review by William Hedley
Vaughan Williams on Naxos
Vaughan Williams review index
A fine reminder of Timothy Brown’s excellent work at Clare College.
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