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Lest We Forget
The Choir of Chichester Cathedral/Charles Harrison (organ solos)
Timothy Ravalde (organ accompaniment)
rec. 2018, Chichester Cathedral, UK

The choir of Chichester Cathedral are a long way from being one of England’s most recorded cathedral choirs, but in this World War One Centenary release they present a range of music that reflects on conflict, loss and death, and it’s mostly a successful collection. Some works are written by composers with a philosophical reflection on the war, such as Stanford, who saw the war as Germany betraying its Enlightened cultural heritage. Others have a more direct connection, such as Howells, who wrote his third organ rhapsody in a single sitting during a night-time zeppelin raid on York in 1918. The proceeds of the recording are going to Combat Stress, a UK charity that works to promote the mental health of war veterans, so that alone is a good reason for promoting the disc. But what of its musical merits?

The overall blend of the voices on this recording is good, though the acoustic of the cathedral hasn’t entirely been tamed. There is a sense of a huge space around the voices that slightly dwarfs them, and there are times when the boys sound a little breathy. The tenors are sometimes cast back a little, too, and you get the full range of that in the disc’s opening track, Stanford’s For lo, I raise up. It’s a bold way to open the disc, ranging from its war-like opening through to its prayerful conclusion, and I wasn’t entirely convinced by it for the reasons above. Likewise, the trebles felt a little disconnected in Bainton’s And I saw a new heaven, never quite seeming to find the piece’s spiritual centre. However, the unaccompanied peace of Parry’s Crossing the Bar works much better. Here the microphones feel more intimate, and they capture a lovely performance of meaningful words beautifully sung.

In general, in fact, it’s those more intimate pieces that work best. There is a similar sense of warmth of communication about Elgar’s We Will Remember Them, and Peter Ashton’s So they gave their bodies is a beautiful reflection. John Ireland’s Greater Love Hath No Man has a pleasing sense of growth in its arch-like structure, developing from its quiet (too quiet?) opening through its climax to its reflective conclusion. Holst’s Turn Back, O Man, seems to solve some of the earlier balance issues, and the walking bass of the organ comes over very well against the sound of the choir.

The solo organ pieces work well, too. Howell’s third rhapsody, the one from the air raid, runs from high drama and dazzlingly violent chords, through to reflective, almost contemplative interludes which are hard to square with the circumstances of the piece’s composition. Equally, Stanford’s Verdun is prickly but exciting, a work of properly symphonic weight.

There are a couple of hymns, too, from the homely singing of The Day thou Gavest to the more overt patriotism of I Vow To Thee My Country, and Ireland’s Te Deum is an assertive way to end the disc.

I found my ear tuning in and forgiving the problems as I listened through the disc, and if it isn’t the finest choral CD to have come my way this year then it’s still worthwhile. You can enjoy it for musical as well as charitable reasons.

Simon Thompson

Previous review: Brian Wilson

Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
For lo, I raise up, Op.145 [8:11]
Edgar BAINTON (1880-1956)
And I saw a new heaven [4:54]
Sir Hubert PARRY (1848-1918)
Crossing the bar: Sunset and evening star [2:51]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Greater love hath no man [5:39]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
Three Rhapsodies, Op.17/3 in c-sharp minor [7:40]
Clement Cotterill SCHOLEFIELD (1839-1904)
St Clement [3:19]
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
We will remember them: They shall grow not old (Movement 3b of The Spirit of England, Op.80) [2:10]
Sir Hubert PARRY (1848-1918)
There is an old belief (No.4 of Songs of Farewell) [3:53]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
Turn back, O man (No.2 of Three hymns for chorus and orchestra, Op 36a) [3:59]
Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924
Verdun (Movement 3 of Sonata No.2 ‘Eroica’) [8:30]
Peter ASTON (1938-2013)
So they gave their bodies [3:42]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
I vow to thee, my country – Thaxted [2:54]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Te Deum in F: We praise Thee, O God [7:11] 


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