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Voice and Verse: The Choir of Wakefield Cathedral
The Choir of Wakefield Cathedral/Thomas Moore
Simon Earl (organ)
rec. 9, 10, 13 October 2014, Wakefield Cathedral
PRIORY PRCD1143 [74:44]

The short liner-note states that the present CD ‘fills a gap in the choir’s discography and includes favourite melodies every listener will enjoy.’ It amply fulfils this mission. Previous releases from The Choir of Wakefield Cathedral include Volume 11 of the Complete New English Hymnal, Volume 7 (Series 2) of the Complete Psalms of David, Music for Holy Communion, a retrospective of works by Jonathan Bielby and a selection of carols for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.

Charles Hubert Hastings Parry’s music opens and closes this excellent new CD. The Coronation anthem ‘I was Glad’ is strong and stirring. I was delighted that the setting of the Miltonic text Blest Pair of Sirens was given an outstanding performance here. It is one of Parry’s great showpieces and never fails to delight, inspire and move.

Edward Elgar’s anthem ‘Give unto the Lord’ was composed in 1914 for that year’s Festival of the Sons of the Clergy. It was completed some months before the outbreak of the First World War and the occasionally violent imagery of the text from the Book of Psalms (Psalm 29) seems prophetic.

It is hardly surprising in an album of choral ‘pops’ that John Rutter is represented by two anthems. His attractive ‘All things bright and beautiful’ with piano accompaniment and the equally pleasing ‘The Lord bless you and keep you’ are real treats.

Old favourites include Mozart’s ‘Ave Verum Corpus’, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Pie Jesu’ from his Requiem and Howard Goodall’s ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ which is a favourite on Classic FM, and was used as the theme tune to The Vicar of Dibley. A strong performance is given of Vaughan Williams’ ‘Let all the World in every corner sing’ extracted from the Five Mystical Songs (1906-11) to texts by George Herbert. Herbert Sumsion’s thoughtful anthem ‘They that go down to the sea in ships’ was composed in 1979, for the Choir of Repton Preparatory School. It is a work that perfectly juxtaposes words and music.

There were a number of pieces new to me. Dale Adelmann’s ‘Steal Away to Jesus’ is perfect in its poise. Maurice Bevan’s ‘There is a wideness in God's mercy’ is a powerful hymn-like piece, with an amazing organ accompaniment in the first and last verses. The music of a frosty night and starry sky is evoked in Jonathan Dove’s extraordinary setting of the prophet Amos’ words ‘Seek him that maketh the seven stars and Orion’. It was composed in 1995 as a commission from the Friends of the Royal Academy of Arts. This is one of the most interesting pieces on this CD.

Many listeners will know the well-loved ‘God be in my head’ by Walford Davies. There is also a popular version by John Rutter. Philip Wilby is best-known for his superb music for brass band, although he has composed music in many genres. So it comes as a nice surprise to find this refreshing version composed in 1989.

The haunting, if somewhat ‘pop infused’ ‘At Evening’ by Will Todd was written for piano and choir. It was designed to be an anthem or a blessing at the end of Evensong.

Included on this disc are two fine works for organ solo. Percy Whitlock’s meditative ‘After an Old French Air’ which was included in the album ‘Reflections (Three Quiet Pieces)’ published after the composer’s death in 1946. The other work by Max Reger is a ‘war-horse’. The Variations and Fugue on ‘God save the King’ deserves to be as well-known as Charles Ives witty ‘Variations on America’. Reger’s work displays his ‘fantasy’ style at its best.

I was disappointed with the documentation of this CD. Firstly, the liner-note tells next to nothing about the works performed: there is really only the barest of introductions to the programme. Secondly, there are no composer or composition dates given: this is most useful in providing the relevant work with context. These can be accessed from various websites, but I expect the record producer to do this research and not the listener. I have provided these dates in my review, where found. There is no information about the organ. Positively, the texts for all the anthems, hymns and songs are included, although the authors are not cited. A good history of the Cathedral Choir is given.

The singing on this new CD is excellent, with an equally good organ and piano accompaniment, where appropriate. The programme is a first-rate balance of old and new, popular and a little less so. However the subtitle of the CD is correct – these are, or ought to be, ‘popular classics’.

John France

Hubert PARRY (1848-1918) I was glad (1902) [5:06]
Howard GOODALL (b.1958) The Lord is my shepherd (pub.2000?) [2:54]
John RUTTER (b.1945) All things bright and beautiful (1983) [2:43]
Dale ADELMANN (b.1961) Steal away to Jesus [3:40]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) Give unto the Lord (1914) [7:45]
Percy WHITLOCK (1903-1946) Organ: After an Old French Air (1934) [4:23]
John RUTTER The Lord bless you and keep you (1981) [2:28]
Maurice BEVAN (1921-2006) There is a wideness in God's mercy (1999) [2:59]
Andrew Lloyd WEBBER (b.1948) Pie Jesu (1985) [2:58]
Jonathan DOVE (b.1959) Seek him that maketh the seven stars (1995) [6:43]
Philip WILBY (b.1949) God be in my Head [2:10]
Herbert SUMSION (1899-1995) They that go down to the sea in ships (1979) [5:43]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Let all the world in every corner sing (1906-11) [3:24]
Wolfgang AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791) Ave verum corpus, K.618 (1791) [2:47]
Will TODD (b.1970) At evening [1:57]
Max REGER (1873-1916) Organ: Variations and Fugue on "God save the King" (1901) [7:06]
Hubert PARRY Blest pair of sirens (1887) [9:58]



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