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Even Such is Time
Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
Lo, the full, final sacrifice [15:30]
Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988)
What love is this of thine? [6:58]
Sir William WALTON (1902-1983)
Where does the uttered music go? [5:39]
Herbert HOWELLS
Even such is time [5:42]
Kenneth LEIGHTON
Crucifixus pro nobis, op 38 [18:26]
Sir William WALTON
Set me as a seal upon thine heart [3:20]
Herbert HOWELLS
Take him, earth for cherishing [8:12]
Sir William WALTON
A Litany [2:57]
Kenneth LEIGHTON
Solus ad victimam [5:07]
Sidharth Prabu-Naik, Gabriel Harley (organ)
The Choir of Christ's College, Cambridge/David Rowland
rec. 2017, Chapel of Queen’s College, Cambridge
Texts included
REGENT REGCD511 [71:55]

A handful of choirs – the likes of Clare, King’s, St. John’s, Trinity and, from Oxford, Merton and New College – tend to be the dominant names when one thinks of Oxbridge collegiate choirs. It’s good, therefore, to be reminded that quite a number of other colleges have fine choirs, even if their reputations aren’t as stellar. One such is the Choir of Christ's College, Cambridge. Under the leadership of David Rowland, their long-serving Director of Music, the choir has already made a number of discs for Regent. I’ve heard two of these: a very enjoyable Christmas disc (review) and a fine disc of music by Sir Philip Ledger, which I bought some years ago but which I don’t believe we’ve ever reviewed (REGCD305). This latest addition to their discography contains some demanding music by four British composers.

The sole piece by Gerald Finzi is his sublime setting of the seventeenth-century poet, Richard Crashaw, Lo, the full, final sacrifice. The atmospheric organ introduction, played by Sidharth Prabu-Naik, sets the scene very well indeed. Finzi’s rapt, contemplative music is sung with skill and expression by the choir and later, at ‘Rise, Royal Sion!’, there’s good strength in the singing. This is the one piece on the programme that I know ‘from the inside’, having taken part in performances of it, and throughout the performance I admired the choir’s attention to detail, not least in the matter of dynamics. This gets the programme off to an auspicious start.

There are three short pieces by Walton. The choice of Where does the uttered music go? might be thought a bit ambitious, not because the choir isn’t up to its challenges – they are – but because the music divides into no less than twelve parts yet the Christ's College choir musters only 25 singers (7/6/6/6). Notwithstanding that, they sing the music confidently. I must admit, though, that I don’t find this as appealing a piece as the other two Walton offerings. Set me as a seal upon thine heart, which was written as a wedding anthem, is a lovely little creation, suitably direct in expression. It’s very well done here and Sidharth Prabu-Naik, forsaking the organ loft to join the tenor section, is a pleasing soloist. A Litany, which sets two verses of Phineas Fletcher’s ’Drop, drop, slow tears’, also gets a good performance.

Those words of Fletcher’s crop up again as the last of the four sections of Kenneth Leighton’s Crucifixus pro nobis. This is an ambitious choice by David Rowland because the music is austere and uncompromising, making serious demands on the performers. The soloist is particularly challenged by Leighton. Here, the mantle is taken by soprano Maisie Hulbert who has the first movement all to herself (with organ accompaniment) and reappears in the third movement. She sings very well in the first movement, ‘Christ in the cradle’; I like the tonal quality she produces, even if the words aren’t always clearly enunciated. She seems to me to put over the sadness in the music. Miss Hulbert also does well in the third movement, ‘Christ in his passion’, of which she and the choir give a powerful performance. In between these movements comes ‘Christ in the garden’ which is for choir and organ. The music is intense and dramatic and David Rowland gets his choir to project it strongly. The consonance and relative simplicity of the music in the final movement, the only one that is unaccompanied, provides a pleasing and consoling contrast to what has gone before. Here, Leighton sets ’Drop, drop, slow tears’, as Walton did, but adds a third stanza.

The other Leighton piece, Solus ad victimam, is another Passiontide work, this time just for choir and organ, but the music here is simpler and more direct than Crucifixus pro nobis. The piece takes the form of a slow processional and it’s pretty powerful. The present performance is a strong one.

Two a cappella pieces by Herbert Howells complete the programme. Even such is time is an early work, dating from 1913 when Howells was still a student. It’s a setting of the famous lines by Sir Walter Raleigh, scored for double SATB choir. For a student piece it’s quite ambitious but the writing is assured. The masterly Take him, earth for cherishing comes from the height of Howells’ maturity. This profound and eloquent work was written to be sung at a memorial service for President John F Kennedy. It’s surely significant that in choosing his text Howells returned to words by Prudentius that he’d already used some thirty years previously as a study for Hymnus Paradisi. That masterpiece was composed to assuage some of Howells’ grief at the tragically early death of his young son, Michael. When the words of Take him, earth for cherishing enjoin the earth ‘to thy tender breast receive him’ we may wonder whether it was Kennedy or Michael Howells who was uppermost in the composer’s thoughts. The Christ's College choir sings this great, complex work with much commitment and give a very creditable performance.

I enjoyed this disc. For one thing, the repertoire has been discerningly chosen. The choir does very well. There are times when one is conscious that the choir is comprised of student voices: the tenors and basses lack amplitude at times and the sopranos sing with a bright, pure tone but I’d have liked more roundness in the tone, especially in loud passages where something of an edge to the tone is apparent sometimes. However, the choir turns in accomplished performances and consistently displays engagement with the music. The two organists do well in the accompanied pieces: Sidharth Prabu-Naik makes fine contributions in the Finzi and in Crucifixus pro nobis while Gabriel Harley offers some exciting playing in the other Leighton piece.

The choir has been well recorded by the Regent team and David Rowland’s notes are useful.

The Christ’s College choir can be proud of their achievements in this recital.

John Quinn

 

 




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