Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) Missa in Angustiis (Nelson Mass) Hob XXII:11 [40:13]; William CROFT (1678-1727) The Burial Service [14:38]; Thomas TALLIS (1505-1585) Glory to Thee, my God, this night [2:53]; Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625) Drop, drop slow tears; Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) St John Passion – Chorale O Lord who dares to smite Thee [2:05]; Chorale O mighty King [2:03]; Chorus Rest calm [10:58]
Sylvia Stahlman (soprano); Helen Watts (mezzo); Wilfred Brown (tenor); Tom Krause (baritone); The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
London Symphony Orchestra (Haydn); Philomusica of London (Bach)/David Willcocks
rec. 1960 (Bach), 1961 (the rest)
no text or translations included
ALTO ALC1184 [74:42]
Recordings and performances of Haydn’s Nelson Mass are reasonably common nowadays, but you would be lucky to hear a performance recorded or live with the impact of this King’s College performance from over fifty years ago. That impact is however somewhat muted by the recording which gives a fair impression of the sound inside King’s, with its notorious acoustic. The orchestra at the start is obviously sited in a large building, and when the choir comes in it becomes obvious that it is indeed a very large building. Some details are lost but much less than I remember from listening to the original issue. What is very obvious is the vigour and general sense of responsiveness to the music from choir, orchestra and soloists. Sylvia Stahlman in the important soprano part sings with a mixture of firmness and agility as the part demands. The others are all good also although at times Gerald English, a very eloquent and much missed singer, has some apparent difficulty in balancing with the obviously much larger voice of Tom Krause. The choir sing with more vitality than has been the case in some of their more recent recordings and the orchestra, no doubt with the help of the engineers, play with great clarity and energy. I had wondered whether I would enjoy hearing this again when there are many excellent recent recordings which I have greatly enjoyed, including those by Trevor Pinnock, J Owen Burdick and Nikolas Harnoncourt, but it does still have real virtues which make it well worth hearing.
William Croft’s Burial Service was first published in 1724. In his Preface he points to the lack at that time of a setting of the whole service for use in Cathedrals, and also points out that one section in his publication is by Henry Purcell. He goes on modestly to explain that he did not write a new setting of his own of this section as his object in the service as a whole was to imitate “that great master and celebrated composer”. How Purcellian the result is must be a matter of opinion, but certainly it is one of the great glories of English Cathedral music, and is presented here to perfection, with the choir singing in procession as they would do when it is used within a service. This is not music one might want to hear every day, but it does have a very special beauty and seriousness all of its own. This too is a very welcome reissue.
The rest of the disc less interesting. The recording of the St John Passion (in English) suffers more than the Haydn from recording within the Chapel, and in the final chorus in particular at times it is difficult to distinguish much detail. The two hymns are little more than makeweights, although the Gibbons is a very lovely setting. I enjoyed the Tallis less as the canon which you might expect with this tune - known as Tallis’s Canon - is not actually sung here as a canon.
It is good to have these recordings from what was very much a vintage period for the King’s College Choir. I understand that the Haydn is available on a differently coupled disc from Decca which I have not heard, but for me the inclusion of the Croft is one of the main attractions of the present disc and would tip the balance in its favour for me.
John Sheppard
It is good to have these recordings from what was very much a vintage period for the King’s College Choir.

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