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Anthem – Great British Hymns and Choral Works
Huddersfield Choral Society/Aidan Oliver
Murray Greig, Thomas Osborne & David Hooper (trumpets), Mark Wagstaff (timpani), Thomas Trotter (organ)
rec. 3-5 June 2016, Rochdale Town Hall, UK

With trumpets and drums bursting in on the scene in tandem with the massed ranks of the Huddersfield Choral Society after Thomas Trotter’s splendiferous introduction to Zadok the Priest, there will be few red-blooded Englishmen whose neck-hair will fail to rise at the opening of this fun-filled disc. And the spine tingling effects do not stop there. A sumptuous account of Vaughan Williams’s Old Hundredth and a terrifically potent performance of I Was Glad ooze Coronation opulence, despite the absence from the Parry of the “Vivat” shouts. Moving away from these big traditional English show-stoppers, there’s plenty of wallowing Edwardiana in two generous helpings of Elgar and a wonderfully rich account of God So Loved the World from Stainer’s Crucifixion. Here is a large, full-bodied choir, singing in full voice and clearly having an absolute ball in these classics from the English choral repertory.

In its natural habitat – grandiloquent English choral gestures embodying the great days when Britain was a world power with immeasurable self-confidence – the Huddersfield Choral Society remains a pinnacle of the grand sound of English choral singing. Under Aidan Oliver, its sound is as gloriously robust and full-bodied as it ever was. If he was wrapped in the Union Flag and quaffing tankards of fine Tadcaster Ale with one hand while commanding his massed vocal troops with the other, I would not be at all surprised. This is the sort of iron-clad discipline which the Duke of Wellington must have commanded amongst his troops at Waterloo; and it has an equally decisive, if rather less destructive, result. The massed voices are drilled to perfection in the Handel, where there is some tremendously precise rhythmic detail, with over 100 voices articulating their rows of semiquavers with absolute precision.

However, there is a side to the English choral tradition which falls clearly outside the comfort zone of the Huddersfield Choral Society and, unfortunately, the powers-that-be have decided to venture there with this disc. Music written for the intimate and reduced forces of a church or cathedral choir falls way out of the scope of this massed body of singers, and it shows in some cumbersome and clumsy performances. The Britten Jubilate Deo lumbers over its delicate little rhythmic bouncers like a carthorse ambling towards the crease at Headingly, while Edgar Bainton’s classic anthem and James MacMillan’s haunting Gaelic-flavoured gem have the refinement of truffles finely shaved over a steaming Yorkshire Pudding with beef gravy.

Luckily a generous helping of refinement is to be found in Thomas Trotter’s absolutely masterly accompaniments. His glittering fingerwork and transparent registrations salvage Jonathan Dove’s Seek him that Maketh the Seven Stars from a horribly hefty and clod-hopping choral tone, allowing the choir’s tremendously impactful dynamic extremes to take on a vaguely celestial feel. And Trotter’s gloriously colourful playing in Finzi’s magnificent God is Gone Up brings out the detail which the voices generally trample over.

There are also moments where the big choral sound yields surprisingly effective results, not least in the concluding hymn – “O God Our Help in Ages Past” – of Vaughan Williams’ O How Amiable. An anthem which has never come across to me as anything other than dire and turgid - Vaughan Williams in routine churn-out-an-anthem mode – here seems almost impressive. There is also a wonderful expansiveness about the unison singing of so many massed voices at the start of the Holst psalm setting.

Do not look to this disc for the English cathedral anthem at its best, but seek it out for the grandeur and gloriously robust sound of some great British coronation anthems sung with fervour and virile muscularity.

Marc Rochester

Disc contents
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Zadok the Priest, HWV258 [5:19]
Edgar BAINTON (1880-1956)
And I saw a New Heaven [5:18]
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Ave verum corpus, Op.2 No.1 [3:17]
Give unto the Lord, Op.74 [8:21]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
O How Amiable [3:57]
The Old Hundredth [4:47]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Jubilate Deo in C [2:38]
Sir Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848-1918)
My Soul there is a Country [3:55]
I Was Glad [5:21]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
Psalm 148, H117 No.2 [4:51]
Sir John STAINER (1840-1901)
God So Loved The World [4:13]
Sir James MacMillan (b.1959)
A New Song [5:40]
Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
God is Gone Up. Op.27 No.2 [4:43]
Jonathan DOVE (b.1959)
Seek Him that Maketh the Seven Stars [6:40]



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