Many discs have been issued already, and no doubt there will be many more, commemorating the First World War. I suspect that few will be as cunningly devised, well performed and presented and well filled as this. That is not to say that everything here is of equal musical interest but it is good to come across a disc where such obvious thought has been given to all aspects of its production.
Stanford wrote For lo, I raise up
in 1914. It is a fierce setting of lines from Habakkuk concerning the horrors which will be perpetrated by warlike aggressors and the prophet’s hope for eventual peace. Alan Gray, Stanford’s successor at Trinity College, Cambridge, set three of Rupert Brooke’s poems, ending with The Soldier
. Although these are unsurprisingly deeply felt – Gray had lost two sons in the War, they lack individuality or memorable fibre. That is supplied in quantity in Parry’s well-known motets. These have often been recorded but new versions are always welcome although a certain lack of drama did take me by surprise at first. The performances are essentially understated, and despite the large size of the choir, with nineteen trebles, four each of altos and tenors and five basses, there seems at times a curious lack of sheer power or contrast. I soon found however that I got used to this. The clarity and care for textures is welcome, especially in the last motet which is written for double choir. Overall these are satisfying performances.
The other highlight of the disc is Vaughan Williams’ wonderful anthem Lord, thou hast been our refuge
, which makes use of a solo trumpet as well as double choir. This is given with suitable fervour.
The remaining item is Walford Davies’ A short Requiem
, written in 1915 and employing a variety of Biblical and other religious texts. Although it has the virtue of being succinct, I regret that I found it no more memorable or individual than his other choral music that I have heard, such as Everyman.
Like all of the works on this disc there can be no doubting the sincerity of its sentiment but in itself that does not make for great music. Nonetheless this remains a well-planned disc, and the inclusion of excellent notes and the full sung texts assists greatly the listener’s understanding.
All in all this is a very worthwhile commemoration of the response of the British musical establishment of the time to the horrors of war. It is very much one of those rare cases
where the contents of a disc as a whole are substantially more than the sum of its parts.