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Music for the Royal Occasion from St. Paul's
W. Chalmers SMITH / Welsh Hymn Melody
Hymn: Immortal, invisible, God only wise [2:45]
Johannes BRAHMS
How lovely is thy dwelling place (from A German Requiem) [6:28]
Rondeau (from Abdelazar) (arr. Christopher Dearnley) [2:29]
Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD
Nunc Dimittis (from Evening Service in B flat) [3:57]
Jan STRUTHER / Trad Irish Melody
Hymn: Lord Of All Hopefulness [2:59]
Geoffrey BUSH
Trumpet March [5:40]
Benjamin BRITTEN
Jubilate Deo in C [2:55]
Johann Sebastian BACH
Jesu joy of man’s desiring (from Cantata No.147) [3:57]
Exultimus (from Seven Sketches on verses from the Psalms Exultemus) [4:30]
Sir Cecil Spring RICE / Gustav HOLST
Hymn: I vow to thee, my country [2:22]
Let the people praise thee, O God [5:12]
Jeremiah CLARK
Trumpet Voluntary (arr. Christopher Dearnley) [2:02]
George Frideric HANDEL
Let their celestial concerts all unite (from Samson) [3:36]
Christopher Dearnley (organ)
Choir of St. Paul’s Cathedral/Barry Rose
rec. 5-9 September 1981.

The majority of this CD is devoted to an attractive assortment of pot-boilers performed at numerous royal occasions over the years. There’s nothing wrong with that if this is the sort of thing that appeals to you. Of its kind it’s very good, capturing as it does the atmosphere of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The choir is set fairly near to the listener in this swimming pool of a venue — the decay time is around 5 seconds — and their close attention to clear diction is obvious. Sibilants are maybe overdone in places but the recording is all the better for it. The overall choral effect is still “churchy” but clarity isn’t sacrificed because of this. The organ is suitably massive but does suffer from the echo resonating around the cathedral, leading to a rather undefined sound at the top end and muddy textures. To be honest, it’s just what you would expect from a recording made in a cathedral.

There are four organ solos played by Christopher Dearnley. Purcell’s Rondeau sounds splendid but the articulation is curiously wayward. The theme is pulled around and rushed and this comes as something of a shock when compared to Purcell’s original or even Britten’s setting in Young Person’s Guide. It’s Mr Dearnley’s choice but personally I found this to be the least enjoyable of his solo items. I hadn’t come across the Geoffrey Bush piece before and I enjoyed listening to it. The main theme is a classic regal march but there’s far more to it than that. In the main central section, Bush has written some music that sounds improvisatory in nature. The structure is loose but then the opening march theme returns to bring the work to a thrilling close. Returning to pot-boilers this sort of compilation simply has to include the Trumpet Voluntary. It’s presented here in an arrangement by Dearnley. Articulation again proves to be unclear but that is down to the acoustic and not the playing.

The choir sings beautifully throughout. Much of the repertoire doesn’t tax them at all - I Vow to Thee/Immortal, invisible and so on - but we are also given some more substantial fare elsewhere.

The Stanford Nunc Dimittis is gorgeous music presented here in a true legato style. Britten’s Jubilate Deo and the Mathias Let the people praise thee, O God are as clear as a bell with good attention to the dynamics from both choir and organist alike. These performances are full of joy but the best item is left until the end: Let their celestial concerts all unite is great, uplifting music by any standards and it’s only fitting that Handel has the last say. This is glorious and beautifully performed.

There are a few collections such as this on the market built around a royal theme. One of the best I’ve come across is certainly the superb Glorious Majesty (EMI 50999 327265210) but that is a 3 CD set. This Cameo CD, carefully restored from vinyl, is well presented with interesting liner notes. There are two niggles to end with. Firstly, the playing time isn’t too generous. Less than 50 minutes was OK in the LP age but is short measure nowadays. Secondly, there are some annoying 12 or 13 second gaps between tracks. I thought my player had crashed. Maybe the next production run can close these gaps up to something more sensible or perhaps I’m just an impatient listener. Other than that, it’s a good disc.

John Whitmore