Audite Finem - Old and New Music from Cambridge’s 21st Century College
Charter Choir of Homerton College, Cambridge/Daniel Trocmé-Latter
Jonathan Huse (organ)
rec. August 2014, Selwyn College Chapel, Cambridge
Texts and English translations included
EM RECORDS EMRCD027 [61:51]
Homerton College is the newest college of Cambridge University. It was granted its charter as recently as 2010 though its origins, as a London educational establishment, go back to 1768. The college motto is Respice finem (‘Look to the end’) which has been adapted suitably for this CD. The college’s Charter Choir was established in 2009 to mark the grant of the charter and Daniel Trocmé-Latter has been its director since 2011. The choir consists of around 22 singers, most of whom are undergraduates at the college. For this, its first recording, the choir presents a programme which in many ways chimes in with the evolution of the college since 1768. All the pieces that follow the two Stanford items have direct links to Homerton College.
As this is the choir’s first commercial CD one would like to give it a warm welcome. Unfortunately, however, the merciless scrutiny of the recording process reveals a few shortcomings which, when discussing a full-price CD, cannot be overlooked. I should say straightaway that the commitment of the choir is not to be doubted and any of these performances heard once in live performance would give pleasure but here we are discussing singing which is intended for repeated listening.
The Byrd piece which opens the recital shows some of the virtues of this choir but also one of the two issues. The singing is spirited and clear; the diction is also good. The sound is bright if a bit soprano-dominated. However, as I listened I couldn’t escape the fact that I was hearing young voices, several of which lack maturity. That’s especially true of the tenors and altos – the inner parts are rather dull in tone – while there’s insufficient weight to the basses. Each time I listened to the disc I’ve not been able to escape these reservations.
Sadly, the other issue is tuning. On several occasions this just wasn’t quite precise enough for a recording. The choir is audibly challenged in the motets by John Hopkins, especially in the final one, Surge aquilo et veni auster. These pieces for unaccompanied choir by Hopkins, a Fellow of Homerton, are not without interest but they make significant demands on the singers. All four are, apparently, based on plainsong. In the first one, Ave praceclara maris stella, one notices that the tuning isn’t always 100% accurate and the lack of body in the tenors’ sound is apparent. The harmonic language is tricky and you can almost sense the relief when the final major chord is reached. The tessitura is frequently demanding in the fourth motet and the textures are more complex than elsewhere in the set. The choir sings valiantly here and elsewhere in these pieces but I feel that these young singers have not yet mastered the music sufficiently to record it.
On the other hand they put across well the short piece by Greta Tomkins, who lectured at Homerton in the 1940s. Her setting of Let all the world in every corner sing isn’t particularly remarkable but the choir presents it confidently. They also serve very well the two pieces by their director. The Grace is one that is used at the college’s annual Charter Dinner and Daniel Trocmé-Latter has set it to music effectively. His choir sings it very nicely, especially the Amen, which is beautifully ‘placed’. I liked also his The Lord God, for which the choir is on good form.
The piece by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies may surprise because it is pretty conservative in tone. ‘Max’ is an Honorary Fellow of Homerton, as is Carol Duffy, the Poet Laureate. To mark the granting of the college’s Charter the two of them collaborated on this short musical tribute to the college. It’s a pleasing piece but once again I felt the tuning wasn’t always completely accurate.
The final piece on this Homerton programme is a staple of the English sacred music repertoire, S. S. Wesley’s Blessed be the God and Father. As soon as the piece began I felt as if a switch had been thrown. Here is very good singing, which commands the listener’s attention. In the opening stanza an excellent balance and blend is achieved and the choir builds the dynamics very well indeed. There are two extended passages for unison basses and here the Homerton basses sing with a depth and fullness of tone that has not previously been in evidence. Add to this an attractive soprano solo and then a lively conclusion to the piece from the whole choir and you have a very enjoyable performance. Had the rest of the disc been of this standard then I would have had few if any reservations about it.
The documentation is very good; the notes by Daniel Trocmé-Latter are comprehensive and interesting. The recorded sound is good. However, I do wonder if it might have helped if engineer Myles Eastwood had placed the microphones a little bit further away from the choir. I missed a sense of ambience and space around the sound of the choir but maybe the size of Selwyn College Chapel dictated the placement of the microphones.
I’m genuinely sorry that I can’t give a warmer welcome to this disc. There’s no doubting the spirit of the Homerton choir’s singing but I don’t think that they’re quite ready yet for the scrutiny of a commercial CD – though the performance of Blessed be the God and Father shows what potential there is.
William BYRD (1540-1623) Sing joyfully unto God our strength [2:48]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695) Hear my prayer, O Lord [2:17]
Edgar BAINTON (1880-1956) And I saw a new heaven [5:04]
Samuel WESLEY (1766-1837) O sing unto mie roundelay [6:12]
Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924) The blue bird [3:54]; Praised be Diana [2:51]
Sir Peter MAXWELL DAVIES (b. 1934) Homerton (2010)[[4:58]
John HOPKINS (b. 1949) Four Latin motets (2005-09) [16:05]
Greta TOMLINS (1912-1972) Let all the world in every corner sing (1945) [1:49]
Daniel TROCMÉ-LATTER Homerton College Grace of 1957 (2012) [1:58]; The Lord God (2009) [1:52]
Ken NAYLOR (1931-1993) How shall I sing that majesty? (descant: Roger Green) [4:13]
Samuel Sebastian WESLEY (1810-1876) Blessed be the God and Father [7:41]