Psalms and Motets for Reflection
see end of review for track listing
Choir of St. John’s, Elora/Noel Edison
*Michael Bloss (organ)
rec. 29 April - 1 May 2011, St. John’s Church, Elora, Ontario, Canada. DDD
Texts and translations included
NAXOS 8.572540 [73:18]
I’ve already enjoyed several Naxos discs made by Noel Edison and the excellent choirs that he runs in Elora, Canada, including a couple by the Choir of St John’s Church (review ~ review). Now Edison offers another programme, once again largely based around the psalms.
The Church of St John the Evangelist is situated in Elora, which is described on the church website as ‘a charming, bustling village’ northwest of Toronto. Elora may be a village but its Anglican church maintains a 22-strong professional choir. That’s something that few churches below the status of cathedral can boast these days. It seems from the information in the Naxos booklet that quite a number of the singers may be students drawn from three universities in the vicinity. Anyone who has heard previous discs by this choir will know that Noel Edison, their director since 1982, has trained them well: the choir is a flexible, well balanced ensemble that produces a very pleasing, attractive sound.
The programme includes eight psalms sung to Anglican chants, including three chants by Sir Ivor Atkins who served as Organist of Worcester Cathedral for an astonishingly long period (1897-1950); amongst other things he was a frequent collaborator with Elgar. His chants are quintessentially Anglican, sturdy and reassuring. I like the way that Edison gets his choir to sing them - and all the other chanted psalms - with just the right amount of expression: not too much but not too little. Crotch’s chant, from an earlier era, is similarly right in the midstream of the Anglican musical current and none the worse for that. Most of the remaining chants are conventional but, again, they’re robust, reassuring and they’re well sung. Only Barry Rose, in his much more recent chant, attempts anything by way of mildly adventurous harmonies. His chant for Psalm 121, again firmly rooted in and respectful of Anglican tradition, suits the words of the psalm in question very well indeed.
The rest of the programme is well chosen. The piece by James MacMillan features a good deal of his characteristic Celtic ornamentation of the vocal line. It’s an approachable and effective piece. Poulenc’s two motets from his Quatre Motets pour un temps de pénitence benefit from his piquant harmonies. The Canadian singers make a very good job of them, using dynamic contrasts well. I also liked their performance of Stanford’s big, confident setting of the Te Deum.
One or two pieces are less familiar. Jonathan Harvey’s Remember, O Lord was written to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, choosing an appropriately thoughtful text. The music incorporates some searching harmonies but the language is by no means as radical as that used in some other pieces by Harvey that I’ve heard. In fact, this piece is very firmly rooted in the tradition of church music albeit with some interesting twists. I don’t know why the words to Stainer’s well-known anthem are not printed in the booklet; surely the work is out of copyright. However, copyright issues might explain the omission of the text of the piece by Stephen Paulus. That’s an extract from an opera that he wrote for a Presbyterian church in Minnesota. The music largely consists of warm block chords. Music by Paul Halley has featured on at least one previous album by the St John’s choir. For this anthem, commissioned by them, he has taken a hymn by Charles Wesley but has based his musical setting on a sixteenth-century German Protestant hymn tune. The result is a good, attractive piece.
The standard of performance is high throughout. The choir sings extremely well and where an organ accompaniment is required Michael Bloss offers excellent support. This is another enjoyable recital from the choir of St. John’s Elora where the tradition of church music is clearly being tended and nourished with dedication and skill.
William CROTCH (1775-1847)
Psalm 47* [2:53]
Johannes ECCARD (1553-1611)
When to the Temple Mary went [3:51]
James MacMILLAN (b. 1959)
A New Song (1997)*[5:37]
Sir Ivor ATKINS (1869-1953)
Psalm 2 *[ 3:33]
Sir John TAVENER (1944-2013)
The Lamb (1982) [2:55]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Vinea mea electa (Quatre Motets pour un temps de pénitence, No 2) (1938) [3:50]
Barry ROSE (b. 1934)
Psalm 121 (1996)* [2:29]
Thomas HANFORTH (1867-1948)
Psalm 145 * [5:23]
Paul HALLEY (b. 1952)
Christ, whose glory fills the skies (2005)* [5:04]
Timor et Tremor (Quatre Motets pour un temps de pénitence, No 1) (1938) [3:02]
Sir Ivor ATKINS
Psalm 96 * [3:46]
Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Te Deum laudamus in B flat, Op 10 (1879)* [7:06]
Sir John STAINER (1840-1901)
God so loved the world (from The Crucifixion) (1887) [3:24]
Stephen PAULUS (b. 1949)
Pilgrims’ Hymn (from The Three Hermits) (1997) [3:36]
Sir Ivor ATKINS
Psalm 107 * [4:24]
Edward CUTLER (1831-1916)
Psalm 27 * [4:49]
Jonathan HARVEY (1939-2012)
Remember, O Lord (2003) [3:04]
George COOPER (1820-1876)
Psalm 19 * [4:33]