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Music for Evensong at Gloucester Cathedral
The Choir of Gloucester Cathedral/Adrian Partington; Jonathan Hope (organ)
rec. May 2014, Gloucester Cathedral.
English texts included
PRIORY PRCD1128 [77:55]

The full title of this CD is “Music for Evensong at Gloucester Cathedral commemorating the start of the “War to end all wars” on 4 August 1914”. It’s not an attempt to reconstruct the service that took place in the cathedral on that day - though on 4 August 1914 the anthem by Goss which is sung on this CD was substituted for the advertised anthem, Haydn’s Insane et Vanae Curae. That’s one of the many things we learn from the excellent but anonymous booklet notes.

The music has been discerningly chosen to bring out various Gloucester-related strands, some of them directly related to the Great War. One obvious strand is the music of Ivor Gurney, a Gloucestershire man through and through. As a boy, he was an articled pupil of the cathedral’s organist, Sir Herbert Brewer, along with his great friend, Herbert Howells – sadly, unrepresented on this programme. Fittingly, the illustrations that adorn this disc are details from the beautiful Gurney Windows, installed in the cathedral in 2014. Gurney is renowned as a composer of songs – and as a poet – but here he is glimpsed in less familiar guises. First we hear his Choral Prelude on the tune “Longford”. This is one of three such pieces by Gurney that survive. It was probably written while he was studying at the Royal College of Music and how the name of the tune must have appealed to him – it’s a district of Gloucester just down the Tewkesbury Road from Twigworth where Gurney is buried. The Choral Prelude is gentle and reflective though arguably a bit too long.

We also hear Gurney, the choral composer. Choral music formed only a small portion of his output but here’s a composition that’s possibly unique among his compositions: a psalm chant which he wrote in the summer of 1914. It’s a simple chant, here sung unaccompanied, and well suited to the consolatory words of Psalm 23. Previously unknown to me, I was touched to read in the booklet that it appears Gurney may have sung this chant (to himself?) in the trenches in 1916. Also new to me was his anthem Since I believe in God the Father for unaccompanied double choir. The words are by Robert Bridges and the piece dates from 1925. The music is intense and, until the closing cadence, never really achieves the repose that at least parts of the text seem to demand. The choral textures are often quite dense and whilst I’m glad of the opportunity to hear this anthem I don’t feel that it suggests that choral writing was really Gurney’s metier.

A lifelong friend of Gurney was F. W. ‘Will’ Harvey and so it’s very fitting that Adrian Partington has included a short anthem by one of his predecessors. John Sanders, which sets four moving lines of text by Harvey. The words of A Prayer reveal a deep love for Gloucestershire and for its ‘winding river’, the Severn. Like all of the church music by Sanders that I’ve heard this is beautifully crafted.

Besides Gurney’s psalm chant we hear the much longer Psalm 22, the other psalm appointed for the fourth evening of the month, sung to two chants by Matthew Camidge. The first chant is subdued and solemn and is expressively sung by the Gloucester choir. With the advent of more optimistic words at verse 22 there’s an appropriate switch to a major-key chant. The chanting of both psalms is well pointed.

The canticles are from The Gloucester Service by Neil Cox, who is Director of Music at Lancing College. He wrote this set of canticles for Adrian Partington in 2010. I’ve not heard these before. My only previous encounter with his music, so far as I can remember, came in 2012 when I heard his exciting anthem War in Heaven (1980), sung in Coventry Cathedral, the place for which it was written (review). Cox’s canticles make a great impression. The Magnificat opens exuberantly with music of white-hot energy – a good deal of the energy is supplied by the arresting organ part. The text is set in a vivid and imaginative way and culminates in a majestic and blazing doxology, underpinned by a thrilling organ part. This
doxology, and especially its conclusion, put me in mind of Howells. We get a second chance to experience the stirring doxology at the end of the Nunc dimittis. This is a subdued and thoughtful setting, featuring a plangent tenor solo, though the music rises to an expansive and glowing climax at ‘To be a light to lighten the Gentiles’ I’m delighted that these very fine canticles have been recorded and Neil Cox has been extremely well served by this assured and committed performance by the Gloucester choir and organist, Jonathan Hope.

Jonathan Hope, who accompanies the choir expertly, truly comes into his own with the extensive concluding voluntary. Parry wrote his Toccata and Fugue: The Wanderer in 1912 but seems to have been dissatisfied with it and revised it; publication did not occur until after his death. The work is named after his yacht on which he loved to sail. It’s an imposing and complex piece, capped by a substantial fugue which, in this performance, runs for some nine minutes. Hope gives a very fine performance of this work and uses it to show off the full resources of the cathedral organ. The piece exploits both this organ’s potential for delicacy and also its capacity for full-throated majesty. Jonathan Hope brings the work to an imperious conclusion, the might of the Gloucester reeds making a telling impact.

Before the voluntary the closing hymn, O God of earth and altar is sung to the tune ‘King’s Lynn’, one of a number of English folk melodies used as hymn tunes by Vaughan Williams. The tune is sturdy and confident and the melody, married to G K Chesterton’s words, would surely have stiffened the sinews of any English congregation which had been given the chance to sing it on the day war broke out.

I’m pleased to say that we get the full Evensong service on this disc. The two readings and the spoken prayers are all well delivered and are discerningly chosen.

This is the second CD by Adrian Partington and the Gloucester Cathedral choir that I’ve heard; an earlier disc of music by John Joubert impressed me (review). Mr Partington has been Director of Music at Gloucester Cathedral since 2008. A renowned choral trainer, not least through his work with the BBC National Chorus of Wales, he has built impressively on the work of his predecessor, Andrew Nethsingha and as a result the Gloucester choir is in fine fettle. The trebles sing with assurance and excellent tone as do the twelve lay clerks.

Neil Collier has engineering a splendid recording. The choir is very clearly heard and is well balanced with the organ. When the organ is the focus of attention it is heard to great effect, as befits such a fine instrument. The ambience of the cathedral is allowed to contribute very well: the echo resounds for some six seconds at the end of the Parry.

John Quinn

Footnote
Since submitting this review I have learned that the author of the excellent booklet note is Philip Lancaster, the leading Gurney expert.

Track-List
Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937) Choral Prelude on “Longford” [6:13]
John SANDERS (1933-2003) Introit: A Prayer [1:23]
John SANDERS Preces [2:56]
Matthew CAMIDGE (1758-1844) Psalm 22 [9:20]
Ivor GURNEY Psalm 23 [2:47]
First lesson: Isaiah 40, vv 27 to end [1:11]
Office hymn: Rejoice, O land in God thy might (‘Wareham’) [1:49]
Neil COX (b. 1955) Magnificat – The Gloucester Service (2010) [5:48]
Second lesson: Luke 6, VV 20-31 [1:49]
Neil COX Nunc Dimittis – The Gloucester Service (2010) [4:06]
Creed (spoken) [1:01]
John SANDERS Responses [3:43]
Collects [2:53]
Ivor GURNEY Anthem: Since I believe in God the Father [5:29]
Prayers (spoken) [4:26]
Edward Woodall NAYLOR (1867-1934) Final Responses [0:43]
Sir John GOSS (1800-1880) O Saviour of the world [3:03]
Hymn: O God of earth and altar (‘King’s Lynn’) [2:22]
Sir Hubert PARRY (1848-1918) Voluntary: Toccata and Fugue: The Wanderer [16:01]
 
A thoughtful and perceptively devised reflection on the Great War.

 

 




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