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The Complete Psalms of David - Vol. 3: Psalms 37-49
Choir of Liverpool Cathedral/David Poulter
Ian Tracey (organ)
English texts included
rec. 21-23 February, 2012, Liverpool Cathedral. DDD
Full track-listing at the foot of this review
PRIORY PRCD 1079 [79:02]
The Complete Psalms of David - Vol. 4: Psalms 50-67
Choir of Peterborough Cathedral/Andrew Reid
David Humphreys (organ)
English texts included
rec. 24-27 July, 2012, Peterborough Cathedral.DDD
Full track-listing at the foot of this review
PRIORY PRCD 1082 [75:41]

Priory’s complete survey of the Psalms of David, the first two volumes of which appeared last year, continues (see below). The psalms are being presented in the order in which they appear in the Psalter so Liverpool Cathedral choir sings the psalms prescribed for the evening of the seventh day of the month through to the evening of the ninth day. Picking up the baton, the Peterborough choir then take us through to the twelfth evening.

Priory are endeavouring to include a lot of chants which have not been recorded before. Perhaps one consequence of this admirable policy is that not many composers have so far featured very often. John Goss, who contributes a chant to the Liverpool programme, was represented by a very brief chant in Vol. 1 while Walter Alcock and Samuel Sebastian Wesley both featured in Vol. 2. Otherwise all the names are new to the roster.
One trait that was noticeable in the first two volumes was the inclusion of some chants by composers who had a connection with the cathedral in question, usually as Organist at some time. It’s not easy to tell if this trend has been continued because Priory’s otherwise good documentation is lacking in these two new volumes one feature of the first two issues. Previously we could read a brief note by the Director of Music of the cathedral concerned telling us a little about a few of the composers but these are absent in these latest two releases. I hope Priory will reintroduce that feature for future volumes because many of the names of the composers will be unknown to most people. From my own knowledge and a little bit of research I can say that the Peterborough offering includes some ‘home-grown’ composers but so far as I am aware none of the composers on the Liverpool list has a connection with that cathedral.
Listening to the Liverpool performances it struck me that the pacing of the psalms is fairly spacious and steady. That may be a matter of personal taste on the part of David Poulter but it may also reflect the large and very reverberant acoustic of the extremely large building in which the choir habitually sings. I don’t think this spaciousness, if such it be, is a drawback but in general one has the impression that the Peterborough chants move on a little more urgently.
At the risk of making a fairly obvious point an Anglican psalm chant is ‘just’ a few bars of music. The skill comes firstly in matching the chant to the words that are to be sung and secondly in presenting the chant imaginatively with good use of dynamic contrasts, for example, so as to suit and enhance the words. In some psalms - and not always the longer ones - it will be felt desirable to use more than one chant. It seems to me that both David Poulter and Andrew Reid are very skilful and exercise good judgement in these matters.
So, for example, Poulter opens Psalm 37 with a chant by the eighteenth-century cleric, Phocian Henley, which is serviceable but a touch insipid but then, at just the right moment he switches to a chant by Wesley which, as performed here, is much more dramatic. I like the chant by Sievewright that is used for the concluding verses; it has some interesting harmonies and the melody moves in unexpected directions. Psalm 41 is sung to a lovely chant by Roger Fisher, Organist of Chester Cathedral from 1967-1996, which is suitably prayerful yet which has a strong core; this suits the psalm in question very well. Another former Chester Organist’s chant concludes the programme. Malcolm Boyle served at the cathedral from 1932 to 1948 when I believe the poor man was compelled to resign because he re-married after a divorce: things are rather different nowadays. His chant, to which Psalm 49 is sung, is a fine one. As sung here it’s thoughtful and sustained and I liked it very much. With this psalm we come across something not previously encountered in the series, namely a chant sung by men’s voices only. It’s a good idea to include some of these in the series - there’s another one on the Peterborough disc - since many cathedrals will give their trebles a day off each week and have at least Evensong sung by men’s voices. The Liverpool men make a very good job of this particular chant.

Over in Peterborough they seem to have focused a bit more on local connections: and why not? There are several good chants by Stanley Vann, who did important work with the cathedral’s music in his time as Organist (1953-77). One of Vann’s predecessors, Haydn Keeton (Organist, 1870-1921) is also well represented and there are some chants by Andrew Reid who was Director of Music at the cathedral from 2004 but left a few months after this recording was made to become Director of the Royal School of Church Music. Chants by Keeton and Reid come together in Psalm 60 and they dovetail well. We hear another of Reid’s chants to Psalm 57 where it follows - in confident, major-key mode - a more plaintive minor-key chant by Purcell: both ideally complement the words to which they are yoked here. Like his Liverpool colleague Andrew Reid is imaginative in his use of contrast to illuminate the texts; there are many examples of this but I was particularly struck by the good use of dynamics in Psalms 58 and 59. Psalm 61 is sung by men’s voices only. The full choir is back on duty for Psalm 65: here Henry Havergal’s chant is sung confidently for the first couple of verses but thereafter, as the psalmist’s mood changes, the singing becomes more gentle and reflective. Havergal’s chant is a fine one and it’s sensitively delivered here. Right at the end we hear Psalm 67 to a chant by Ronald Gates which is given a suitably confident and extrovert performance - suited to the text - crowned at the doxology with a jubilant arrangement by Andrew Reid of Gates’ chant.
These are two very rewarding discs, confirming that Anglican chant is a discrete and often overlooked art form. Both choirs are good - perhaps Liverpool’s has a slight edge - and they are expertly directed. In both cases the enunciation of the words is clear, which is vitally important if the rich imagery and majestic phraseology are to have the proper impact. In each case the respective organists provide fine support. Neil Collier has recorded both choirs with his customary expertise and I admire especially the way he has harnessed - and not been defeated by - the very reverberant Liverpool acoustic.
Priory’s second traversal of the complete Psalms of David is shaping up to be a valuable series. Those who have acquired the first two volumes can invest once again with confidence. I look forward to further instalments.
John Quinn
The Psalms of David on MusicWeb International
Vol. 1. Psalms 1-19. Exeter Cathedral
Vol. 2. Psalms 20-36. Salisbury Cathedral
Full Track-listings
Vol. 3 - PRCD 1079
Phocian HENLEY (1728-1764)/Samuel Sebastian WESLEY (1810-1876)/Christopher TAMBLING (b. 1964)/Robert Andrew SIEVEWRIGHT (1926-2012) Psalm 37[12:11]
Joseph BARNBY (1838-1896) Psalm 38 [6:29]
John GOSS (1800-1880) Psalm 39 [5:46]
Walter ALCOCK (1861-1947) Psalm 40 [7:16]
Roger FISHER (b. 1922) Psalm 41 [4:58]
Thomas ROGERS (1840-1899)/ Henry WALFORD DAVIES (1869-1941) Psalm 42 [5:05]
Thomas ROGERS/ Henry WALFORD DAVIES Psalm 43 [3:08]
William CROSS (1777-1825)/Ronald Edward PERRIN (1931-1997) Psalm 44 [8:14]
Samuel Sebastian WESLEY Psalm 45 [6:08]
Walter PARRATT (1841-1924) Psalm 46 [3:50]
Peter ASTON (b. 1938) Psalm 47 [2:53]
Thomas Henry WEBB (1851-?) Psalm 48 [4:53]
Malcolm BOYLE (1902-1976) Psalm 49 [7:29]
Vol. 4 - PRCD 1082
John PRATT (1772-1855)/Andrew REID (b. 1971) Psalm 50 [6:34]
Kit PERONA-WRIGHT (b. 1979) Psalm 51 [5:39]
Stanley VANN (1910-2010) Psalm 52 [2:59]
Stanley VANN Psalm 53 [2:51]
Anonymous Psalm 54 [2:21]
Stanley VANN Psalm 55 [7:11]
Haydn KEETON (1847-1921) Psalm 56 [4:01]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)/ Andrew REID Psalm 57 [3:53]
Thomas Tertius NOBLE (1867-1953) Psalm 58 [3:33]
George ARNOLD (1832-1902) Psalm 59 [5:18]
Andrew REID/Haydn KEETON Psalm 60 [3:44]
Henry BAKER (1835-1910) Psalm 61 [2:55]
Stanley VANN Psalm 62 [4:00]
Henry WALFORD DAVIES (1869-1941) Psalm 63 [3:52]
“Langdons Collection” Psalm 64 [3:14]
Henry HAVERGAL (1902-1989) Psalm 65 [4:47]
George BENNETT (1863-1930) Psalm 66 [5:26]
Ronald GATES (b. 1927) Psalm 67 [2:26]