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The Call: More choral classics from St. John’s
Alison Martin (harp)
Edward Picton-Turbervill (organ)
Choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge/Andrew Nethsingha
rec. 17-19 April 2015, St. John’s College Chapel, Cambridge, England, UK
CHANDOS CHAN10872 [73:25]

I suppose King’s College Choir will always be the most ‘starry’ of the Cambridge choirs, variable though their standards have been over the years. In fact, their great rivals, St. John’s, have always been just as good, often better, and can boast a long tradition of inspirational directors, including Herbert Howells, Robin Orr and David Hill. The latest in this distinguished line is Andrew Nethsingha, who has put together for this CD a splendid programme of choral works from the past 150 years or so, designed not only to ‘showcase’ this fine choir, but also to provide a satisfying musical experience. Many of the pieces are quite short independent items, though there are one or two more substantial works, notably Mendelssohn’s Hear My Prayer and Stanford’s Te Deum Laudamus, both of which are nicely judged to add a little heft.

John Ireland's deeply felt motet Greater Love hath no man makes a great opening track, powerfully emotional and illustrating the strength of this choir in all four sections. This number, like several of the others, features solos taken by choir members, and all are done with confidence and style.

I won’t go through every single track, but rather shall mention some particularly striking aspects of the various pieces. Mendelssohn’s motet Hear my Prayer is memorable for the lovely singing of treble Oliver Brown. His intonation and phrasing, as well as his characterisation of the various sections, would all be praiseworthy in a professional singer three times his age. Quite exceptional.

Many will recall Tavener’s Song for Athene from Princess Diana’s memorial service, when it briefly introduced a note of chilling dignity into the general vulgarity. Nethsingha draws as near perfect a rendition from his singers as is humanly possible; worth hearing the disc for this alone. A couple of tracks along we have the thrilling Gloria from Jonathan Dove’s Missa Brevis. The singing has a powerful rhythmic impact, but the most striking feature is the organ playing of Edward Picton-Turbervill, who coaxes sounds of great brilliance from the St. John’s chapel organ. Did I catch the tones of a glockenspiel in the last few bars of this? If indeed so, the percussionist remains anonymous. We should be told.

The ‘title’ track, so to speak, is Roxanna Panufnik’s little anthem The Call, a setting of words by George Herbert - probably best known in the context of Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs. Add to that perennial favourites such as Parry’s Jerusalem and I Was Glad, Howells’ A Spotless Rose, Rossini’s O salutaris hostia and Stanford’s Beati Quorum Via, and you have a disc which has something for almost every lover of top quality choral music and performance. My only reservation concerns the recording of the organ. It is fine when playing loudly; but when soft, it becomes a rather indistinct and vague muttering. This is a tough one for recording engineers, because they are often at the mercy of the acoustic of the building itself, and this problem afflicts so many church-based recordings. It doesn’t blight too seriously what is otherwise an outstanding issue.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

Track listing
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Greater Love hath no man [6:02]
Douglas GUEST (1916-1996)
For the fallen [1:21]
Sir Hubert PARRY (1848-1918)
My soul, there is a country [4:00]
I was glad [5:28]
And did those feet (‘Jerusalem’) [2:49]
Roxanna PANUFNIK (b.1968)
The Call [4:21]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Hear my prayer [11:21]
Ave Maria [3:24]
Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Beati quorum via [3:39]
Te Deum laudamus [6:47]
Sir John TAVENER (1944-2013)
Song for Athene [5:31]
Sir William Henry HARRIS (1883-1972)
Holy is the true light [1:42]
Jonathan DOVE (b.1959)
Gloria [3:48]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
O salutaris Hostia [3:39]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
A Spotless Rose [3:24]
Sir Ernest BULLOCK (1890-1979)
Give us the wings of faith [2:54]

Alexander Tomkinson, Oliver Brown, Maximilian Boorman, Joel Branston (trebles), Alexander Simpson, Thomas Lilburn (counter-tenors), Xavier Hetherington, John Clapham (tenors), Augustus Perkins-Ray (bass-baritone), Oliver Morris (bass)



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