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Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Winchester College/Malcolm Archer
Jamal Sutton (organ)
rec. Merton College Chapel, Oxford, 30 June-1 July 2014 CONVIVIUM RECORDS CR027 [71:00]
This new selection of anthems and canticles by Charles
Villiers Stanford is thoroughly enjoyable. It includes three premiere
recordings, although what these are, is not stated on the liner-notes
or track-listings - at least I could not find this information. Fortunately,
the Stanford Society posts details of them on its website
(accessed 23 December 2015).
Two sections are given from the well-known Service in C major, op.115
which was composed in 1909: it was to be Stanford’s last major
setting of the Morning, Communion and Evening Canticles. The liner-notes
point out that this is ‘his most cohesive attempt in terms of
thematic concentration and cyclic unity’. It is an impressive
setting, and the Morning Canticles: Benedictus and Te Deum are an ideal
place to begin exploration of this CD.
I have long appreciated the Three Motets, op.38 dating from 1905, although
they were composed earlier. Like many of Stanford’s anthems and
part-songs these are perfectly formed. The first, Justorum animae (The
souls of the righteous are in the hand of God) balances the notion of
peace with the Lord, against the ‘torment of malice’ of
the middle section. Coelos ascendit hodie (Today, Jesus
Christ has ascended into the heavens) utilises a double choir with exciting
antiphonal exchanges. The final motet Beati quorum via (Blessed
are those that are undefiled) is again reflective and meditative in
its effect. I would have preferred them to have been grouped together
on this CD as they are most effective when heard in order.
The arrangement by Philip Moore of ‘Watts’ Cradle Song’,
for SATB is particularly beautiful. This music was originally used in
the ‘Lullaby’ (Thomas Dekker) published by Stanford in ‘Six
Songs’ op.19, no.2 written in 1892 for soloist and piano. This
is its premiere recording.
Stanford’s setting of the words ‘For Lo, I raise up’,
op.145 from the Old Testament book of Habakkuk is truly prophetic. It
was composed in 1914 and prefigured the horrors of the coming Great
War with its mechanized warfare. This is powerful and sometimes frightening
music that provides a contrast between the belligerent element of human
nature and the more peaceful sanctuary of the Lord’s holy temple.
It is an inspired work that serves as a miniature epitome of the human
condition and a particular theological response to it.
‘Engleberg’ was composed for William Walsham How’s
fine hymn ‘For all the Saints’, and published in the 1904
edition of Hymns: Ancient and Modern. On this disc it is paired
with the words ‘When, in our music, God is glorified’ (Fred
Pratt Green, 1971). This is a good strong tune that deserves to be used
‘A Song of Wisdom: I came forth’ from the ‘Bible Songs
& Six Hymns’, op.113 composed in 1910 owes much to Dvorak’s
Biblical Songs. This present number is a theological discussion about
the nature and virtue of personified Wisdom as expounded in the apocryphal
book of Ecclesiasticus. It is followed by its ‘paired hymn’,
‘O for a closer walk with God’.
The anthem, ‘Come, ye thankful people, come’ was written
for Harvest-tide. ‘If ye then be risen with Christ’ was
composed in 1883 and is another example of Stanford ‘exploring
a new symphonic prose prophetic of [his] … later masterpieces.’
(Dibble, Stanford: The Man & his Music, 2002 -
review). Both are first recordings.
The setting of ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’, has been described
by Herbert Howells as being ‘one of the supremely lovely anthems
of all our history.’ It is a good example of Stanford musically
expounding the text in a varied and satisfying manner.
Psalm 150, ‘O Praise God in his holiness’, is a fine illustration
of an Anglican chant that typifies the genre.
I was most disappointed by the CD booklet. I think that its designer
has allowed artistic ambition to defeat utility. For example, the opening
page has white on orange. Details of the artists are white and grey
text on black background. Generally the font is small and unclear. The
pages are formatted in two, three and four columns. I accept that my
aging sight is partially to blame, but feel it is important to make
this element of the CD package as user-friendly as possible, allowing
especially for people suffering from colour-blindness. If design considerations
trump legibility, the record company ought to make a .pdf file available
in clear black and white text.
I would have preferred if the track-listings had presented the full
details of opus numbers and dates, rather than having to search through
the difficult-to-read liner notes. On a more positive matter, these
programme notes by Jeremy Dibble are detailed and interesting.
Generally, as an aside, it is about time Stanford was blessed with unique
catalogue numbers, such as ‘CVS’ or the ‘JD’
prefix. Anyone who has explored Stanford’s list of works will
realise just how complex the entries can be.
The CD cover was specially commissioned for this recording from Alison
Archer. Also included are pictures of the choir, their director, the
organist and a number of extracts from Stanford’s manuscripts.
The singing on this new CD from Winchester College, with their director
Malcolm Archer is excellent. The organ accompaniment, sometimes overlooked
in reviews of choral and liturgical music, is very well played by Jamal
Sutton. The venue chosen for the recording was Merton College Chapel,
Oxford: surely there are some suitable premises in their beautiful home
city – the Cathedral or the College Chapel?
An online reviewer (Cross-Rhythms, now possibly deleted) of
this CD suggested that general listeners may find that this CD is ‘too
much of a muchness’. Certainly, this is true if through-listened.
I suggest selecting elements for exploration and then going and doing
something else. For example, enjoy the Te Deum and the Benedictus from
the Service in C, then maybe follow this with the hymn tunes, and then
the Three Motets. Other anthems and the psalm setting can be enjoyed
Service in C, op.115, Morning Service: Benedictus (1909) [5:15]
Three Motets, op.38, no.3: Beati quorum via (pub. 1905) [3:36]
Watts’ Cradle Song, (1882) (arr. Philip Moore, 2013) [4:10]
Service in C, op.115, Morning Service: Te Deum (1909) [7:59]
Three Motets, op.38, no.1: Justorum Animae (pub. 1905) [3:08]
Bible Songs, Op. 113: No. 6: A Song of Wisdom (1910) [5:02] Oh! For
a closer walk with God (1910) [3:42]
When, in our music, God is glorified (tune, Engelberg) (1904) [2:32]
For Lo, I raise up, op.145 (1914) [8:20]
Three Motets, op.38, no.2: Coelos Ascendit Hodie (pub. 1905) [1:58]
Come, Ye Thankful People, Come, op.120 (?) [5:27]
If ye then be risen with Christ (1883) [8:59]
The Lord is my Shepherd (1886) [8:48]
Psalm 150 (1909) [2:30]