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Hymns to St Cecilia
Dame Felicity Lott (soprano)
William Mason & Matthew Searles (organ)
The Choir of Royal Holloway/Rupert Gough
rec. 25 April 2013, Rochester Cathedral (Dyson, Gardner, Bliss); 26-27 April 2013, All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London. DDD
HYPERION CDA68047 [70.32]

Hymns to St Cecilia, a disc of twentieth and twenty-first century works in praise of the patron Saint of music, opens with a not unattractive work by James MacMillan. This – Cecilia Virgo - is one of two world première recordings, and is beautifully performed in an atmosphere of resonance, stillness and radiance, in the reverberant acoustic of All Hallows at Gospel Oak. The only marring factor was the rather ugly and cumbersome-sounding pronunciation of Cecilia as “Shesheilia” – presumably an injunction from the composer, given that elsewhere on the disc the saint’s name is pronounced as one would expect.

This is followed by Vaughan Williams’s radiant Silence and Music, and then the other world première recording – Gabriel Jackson’s La musique, which was a commission from the Choir of Royal Holloway, and Dame Felicity Lott, who here takes the solo soprano part. Alas, her rather overblown vibrato and theatrical timbre doesn’t sit well with the serenity of the choir, and sounds rather out of place.

The focal point of the disc is Britten’s Hymn to Saint Cecilia, yet the disc visits many rather lovely and less familiar works en route – Bernard Rose’s Feast Song for St Cecilia and Richard Rodney Bennett’s Verses on St Cecilia’s Day, Howells' A Hymn for St Cecilia and George Dyson’s Live for ever, Glorious Lord, as well as some much-loved favourites, such as Elgar’s There is Sweet Music. There is a lively and uplifting finish to the disc in Bliss’s Sing, mortals! but for me, the highlight of the whole programme is Gardner’s gorgeous A song for St Cecilia’s Day. It sets that glorious Dryden (“From harmony, from heav’nly harmony....”) and the work is here given a bold, beautiful and committed performance.

As a general rule, the singing is impressive, and a sense of peace, calmness and beauty pervades the whole disc. My only criticisms are that the sopranos are quite breathy and slightly but consistently flat on their top notes. Otherwise, you can turn to this disc for some beautiful works, well-performed, with excellent sound-quality and good production values.

Em Marshall-Luck

Previous review: John Quinn

Track listing

James MACMILLAN (b. 1959)
Cecilia Virgo (2012) [5:38]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Silence and Music (1953) [5:46]
Gabriel JACKSON (b. 1962)
La musique (2013) [12:56]
Bernard ROSE (1916-1996)
Feast Song for St Cecilia (1975) [6:09]
Sir Richard Rodney BENNETT (1956-2012)
Verses on St. Cecilia’s Day (2006) [4:59]
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
There is sweet music. Op. 53/1 (1907) [5:22]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Hymn to St. Cecilia, Op. 27 (1942) [11:12]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
A Hymn for St. Cecilia (1961) [3:10]
Sir George DYSON (1883-1964)
Live for ever, glorious Lord (1952) [4:55]
John GARDNER (1917-2011)
A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day, Op. 119 (1973) [4:14]
Sir Arthur BLISS (1881-1975)
Sing, mortals! (1974) [6:03]

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