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Renate Eggbrecht has recorded all 3 violin Sonatas
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A Walk With Ivor Gurney Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910, rev. 1919) [14:16] Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983) Like as the Hart, HH230/3 (1941) [7:09] Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937) Since I believe in God the Father Almighty (1925) [5:49] Judith BINGHAM (b. 1952) A Walk with Ivor Gurney (2013) [12:15] Ivor GURNEY By a Bierside (1916, orch. Herbert Howells, 1917) [4:28] In Flanders (1917, orch. Herbert Howells, 1917) [3:15] Sleep (1915, orch. Gerald Finzi, 1949) [3:32] Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS An Oxford Elegy (1947-9) [22:51] Valiant-for-Truth (1940) [5:24] Lord, Thou hast been our refuge (1921) [8:18]
Sarah Connolly (mezzo), Simon Callow (narrator), Christopher Deacon (trumpet), James Sherlock (organ)
Aurora Orchestra/Nigel Short
rec. St Giles-without-Cripplegate London, 2018
Booklet includes texts in English as sung SIGNUM SIGCD557 [44:06 + 43:30]
This collection’s title is that of the piece by Judith Bingham commissioned by Tenebrae in 2013 and dedicated to Sarah Connolly who here give its world première recording. The programme is cunningly laid out to encourage you to ponder the links between the pieces: I’ll make some suggestions. Why start with Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by ThomasTallis? Well, Gurney and Howells spent the night after the Fantasia’s première walking the streets of Gloucester reflecting on its impact. The work is scored for double string orchestra, both orchestras playing pianissimo in its opening descending phrase, difficult to bring off but magical if successful. Nigel Short’s opening here with the Aurora Orchestra (hereafter AO) is heavenly and gentle, yet for me not quite magical. The pizzicato start of Tallis’s theme is questioning and the transition to its full appearance with sudden crescendo and forte has a fair spring and shudder. The theme itself, marked mezzo piano but also molto espressivo, comes rich, sober yet intensely projected by the AO strings with just the first violins providing a shimmering tremolando descant. In its repeat the first violins display the theme two octaves higher and the second violins have a throbbing accompaniment in semiquavers. It’s the first grand forte moment, marked appassionato and I found it sinewy but not electric. I appreciated more the calm-down in the lower strings (tr. 1, 3:03) and similar passages later for the soft Orchestra 2, contrasted with the urgency of the loud Orchestra 1, the first of many such interchanges between the two orchestras. This mix of the perspectives of time past and present urgency makes both vivid in this work. It’s also a contrast between the protestations found in the original hymn for which Tallis provided the theme, ‘Why fum’th in fight the Gentiles’ spite?’ and the way of the Lord being one of humility. From 3:23 the Orchestra 2 strings are muted which gives them a supplicant quality. I compared the 2016 live recording by Roman Simovic directing as leader the London Symphony Orchestra String Ensemble (hereafter LSOSE) (LSO Live LSO 0792D). His start is more noticeably soft and mystical, the pizzicato start of the theme more eager, the theme itself has more sense of a deeply felt declaration and its repeat is more fervent than Short’s. Later the muted strings of the LSOSE’s Orchestra 2 sound more ghostly than the AO’s, emphasising an immense time perspective, though the LSOSE’s Orchestra 1 protests are less declamatory.
The second section begins with a viola solo from Orchestra 1 (5:01) which takes the theme’s halfway point, the third line of its quatrains, for a folksong-like rumination, soon joined by a sweeter violin solo, then cello solo and finally second violin, all gorgeously played by the AO with an autumnal glow and sense of abundance. Structurally this is the fantasia manner of development, but the effect is that of a small family discussing faith. However, this is soon related to the larger community as these soloists, the principals in their parts in Orchestra 1, alternate presentation with the other members. A germ from the ‘family’ (7:26) is the spark that sets off a more expansive ardour of musing by the community, then holding back and savouring progress (8:08) before the impact of the community realization exerts itself and the two orchestras come together (8:44) and a thrilling poco a poco animando (9:08) is the procession to an exultant molto allargando and then largamente climax (9:35), but for me the marcato effect also wanted at that point needs to be firmer in the AO first violins, despite the generally sterling playing. The LSOSE solos are more brooding, personal and intimate, less lovely than the AO’s but with more sense of inner exploration. The AO show more excitingly the link between the individual idea and corporate assimilation, the high spots if you like, the LSOSE concentrate more on the consistently close relationship of the two in their alternation at close quarters and then coming together. You become more aware than with the AO of the strength of cantabile expression and the sonorous building to the climax, which is more clearly articulated by Simovic.
In the closing section from the AO (10:40) we’re back to the ghostly echoing and time perspective of Orchestra 2, a pizzicato hint of the theme but its presentation now by violin solo with a solo viola in duet providing a more emphatic accompaniment than previous appearances, as if to say a commentary on the theme is a necessary part of accord, though the solo violin, as an individual soul in full freedom of flight, has the last word. As earlier the LSOSE account is somewhat different. The echoing to ppp is more marked and the effect thereby incorporeal. The coming together of solo violin and viola really is appreciably that, a lovely coexistence of tune and counter-tune, whereas the closing violin solo here recalls the mystical element of the work’s opening rather than the AO’s virtuoso lustre. I should point out, however, that my colleague John Quinn (see link at the end) doesn’t favour Simovic’s approach overall.
Like as the hart must be the best known and most sung anthem by Herbert Howells. A link with RVW is probably best found in writing for a spacious acoustic and with looking to unfamiliar music in this context, here jazz idioms. The marking, ‘Not too slowly, but with quiet intensity’ allows for flexibility of approach yet makes the underlying intention clear. Timing at 7:09, Short goes for expansiveness, which gives the tenors’ and basses’ opening with its bluesy harmonies a dreamy longing, perhaps at the cost of taking something off the edge of the intensity. The full chorus which closes the first section, ‘When shall I come to appear before the presence of God?’ (tr. 2, 1:38) is loud and molto espressivo, yet with a sudden big softening from ‘before’, so here’s hope and fulfilment, then the abasement of humility. Short brings to it a summative force. In the central section, ‘My tears have been my meat day and night’, it’s the sopranos’ turn to sing the blues first, but most striking is the slightly faster following tutti cry ‘Where is now thy God?’ (2:43). Its starkness and confrontation, well realized by Short, has resonances with earlier English music (e.g. Byrd’s Ne irascaris). But after this brief outburst we’re back to a parade of prolonged tears welcomed and detailed in the vocal parts in turn as it defines existence. Short catches the balance of the parts beautifully here, especially the key, gentle rise of the tenors from 3:24 just focussing on tears. The final section repeats the opening words and music but this time has the sopranos softly echoing in descant the tenors’ and basses’ melody, now marked mp and ‘tenderly’. There’s an edge to this account that I like: the men are emotive and the ladies bright and quite assertive. The repeated closing full chorus ‘When shall I come …’ also has an ad lib solo soprano descant, appropriately very smooth, not individual in expression, so I suspect two voices out of the seven sopranos are used, adding a soft radiance to the chorus opening before it becomes humbly austere.
I compared the 2017 recording by Queen’s College Oxford Choir/Owen Rees (Signum SIGCD 491). Timing at 5:58, Rees creates an opening of more ardour and urgency but rather misses out on the languor. Of the two recording locations used for this CD I’m guessing this is in the more reverberant Keble College Chapel which makes the tutti cry ‘Where is now thy God’ very dramatic but less stark than Tenebrae’s, though the Queen’s Choir’s central section has a more distraught quality. In the final chorus Queen’s sopranos’ crescendos are too dominant, but not the solo descant top line opening, which is here an individual focus in relation to the community, I think a soloist, for me more effective.
Gurney’s setting of Robert Bridges’ Since I believe in God the Father Almighty strongly identifies with its challenging text. It’s a work for double choir as potently dramatic as the RVW Fantasia and one which, like the Howells too, is clearly conceived for a cathedral acoustic. It begins in a furtive respect of conversational recitative style, but soon comes the acknowledgment that God is ‘Overruler of Fortune’ (tr. 3, 01:19) when the tessitura rises and continues to do so, pained because there’s the will and energy to praise creatures but not their creator. There are beams of praise but writhing counterpoint of disquiet and confused state of mind as God cannot be approached in suffering and sorrow, even though those with faith can accept his ‘embracing’, the latter potential a searing stab of a climax (1:43) of this opening section. The explanation in the second section begins in rather droll recitative manner: having not seen God he can’t be understood, but he has an ‘eternal’ purpose: cue for seraphic sopranos and subterranean basses (2:41), a paradoxical moment of vision, music bringing illumination which logic cannot. The third section, ‘Therefore will I be bound to no studied system’ seems at first to parody Gregorian chant, just as the text starts dutifully then with the ‘no’ denies duty. Where Bridges and Gurney can be positive is by the focus on ‘my spirit’ and affirming a love of beauty. The fourth section expands this solution as ‘freedom in loving service’ and a dry first choir is swept aside by the soaring of the second bringing freedom to life (3:50) and a ‘delight beyond asking’ (4:14) is urgently, rapturously and, you feel from Short’s performance, also guiltily displayed. Bridges in anguish comes to a kind of faith at the close in ‘Confiding’ in God’s greatness. Gurney responds with a kind of RVW Mass in G minor modal style (5:09), the comfort of ancient ceremony, or perhaps simply a cocoon of modal pastel shades.
I compared the 2015 recording by The Sixteen/Harry Christophers (Coro COR 16134). Where Short has more dramatic immediacy, Christophers brings a cooler, more considered clarity of presentation. I like the greater transparency of his projection of the writhing of the melismas of ‘suff’ring’, the desolate atmosphere of his opening and chant like passages generally. But his ‘gratefully adoring’ doesn’t have Short’s spasms of ecstasy.
These two CDs feature Gurney both as composer and poet. Judith Bingham sets his poetry. In A Walk with Ivor Gurney she uses a purely vocal canvas where RVW in An Oxford Elegy heard later mixes vocal and instrumental. Thereby she’s able to resonate key words in a choral backcloth in relation to the words of the solo voice text. At the start she mixes two Gurney poems. The women’s chorus sings just part of a line from ‘Stars sliding’, creating a pearly starscape which also gives the stars an individuality and entity, just as the soloist’s text selected from another poem, ‘The Companions’, does for that singer’s experience. You get the feel of the immensity of space and a cold, glistening activity from both the stars and solo walker beneath them, partly because the vocal tessitura starts striving high, then drops low to signify ‘phantoms of fear’ which form part of the scene for the walker. This is the first of several moments of drama which make this piece absorbing and in this comparable to the others in this programme. The stars, meanwhile, slide ‘wanton’ but the clearing of cloud which emphasises the stars’ brightness, from the smallest to the constellation Orion and finally the planet Jupiter, at the recognition of which Connolly is trumpeting top G, banishes the walker’s earlier fear. A minor error here: Connolly sings ‘pool of light’ (tr. 4, 2:20), while the text in the score and Collected Poems is ‘pool alight’. As Connolly acknowledges Jupiter as a ‘close companion’ Bingham adds another companion and dimension to Gurney’s walk: a male chorus, in concert offstage and invisible, singing the words from a Gloucestershire Roman tomb memorial, with ‘oh’s and ‘ah’s interspersed. It’s wraith-like, as the location is identified as a burial ground: you recall that earlier ‘phantom’ and no longer think it was just the walker’s imagination. Bingham now gives us from Connolly four lines from Gurney’s ‘Hell’s Prayer’, beginning “My God, the wind is rising!” (3:43) ushering in a dark interlude of mystery. But this is dispersed by Bingham’s selection from ‘The Wind’ sung by the women’s chorus, beginning “All night the fierce wind blew” (4:36), the accompanying drone not the Roman soldier’s ‘ah’s but just journeying ‘uh’s. The wind is a destructive force yet a neutral one. Now the ‘oh’s return with another Roman tomb from the male chorus. Connolly sings over this from Gurney’s ‘Fort Yukon’, beginning “I think of the gods, all their old oaths and gages” (7:03). The impact of the wind’s destruction is vividly evoked but it’s the Romans as ‘quiet comrades’ who are respected: having died at work there they attain a kind of citizens’ right, like that of the scholar gypsy in ‘An Oxford Elegy’. The final Gurney selection is from ‘Above the Villa’, Connolly beginning “The wind of Autumn has touched there” (8:58), the text thereafter shared with the women’s chorus. It’s now willow-herb that provides “a wonder of light” and the closing “mystic colour” is therefore that of pale purple. This is the return of Gurney’s love of beauty in the previous piece, pastel shades too. Connolly departs on two top G gently swelling ‘Ah’s, the women’s chorus with a comforting cushion of ‘m’s, but it’s not all cosy: the male chorus reminds us of the second tomb inscription. By a bierside maintains the focus on death in active service. It’s also a transformation song by Gurney. It begins as a lament for the loss of the beauty of mind and body of a soldier, turns into a tirade against Death’s unconcern for justice and strength, yet then is transfigured by a vision of release, the freedom of the soul to wander, a legato not heard before in Gurney’s setting in a long melisma on “wandering” (tr. 5, 1:54). In a rare, tellingly unaccompanied, passage “Death opens” (2:11) and what it opens are “unknown doors” illustrated by the flute in Howells’ orchestration, but more poetically still the inflected B flat in the solo violin in this AO performance (2:48). Death thus assumes the beauty of the soldier and then the grandeur, Howells’ orchestration going into Mahlerian brass vein. Yet even that finally dies, the voice soft, an octave lower than its climactic top E, in a sobering recollection. I compared Connolly’s 2011 recording of the original version with pianist Malcolm Martineau (Chandos CHAN 10691). Here her voice is a touch smoother, its freer opening matching more closely the instruction ‘As a recitative, with simplicity’ yet her melisma on “wandering” is freer in 2018. In 2011 her ‘grand’ climax is more imperious, in 2018 more celebratory; in 2011 her closing ‘grand’ is more effectively soft.
CD2 begins with In Flanders, Gurney’s setting of his boyhood friend Will Harvey’s poem, whose refreshingly straightforward longing for familiar and loved landscapes and even variations of weather that’s the heart of homesickness must especially have evoked fellow feeling as Gurney composed it at Crucifix Corner, Thiepval. This CD’s version is also orchestrated by Howells. Wind instruments at the start take us welcomingly to the open air but, more revealingly, the vocal start is the only unaccompanied moment in the song for “I’m homesick”. Connolly brings to the pictures of home an eager enjoyment which seems more active than daydream. Yet underlying this is also poignancy, deftly understated in the accompaniment but nevertheless caught, as in Howells’ bringing Elgarian flecks of violins’ upper register (tr. 1, 0:56, 2:21) and most of all in the voice’s closing B flat on “hills again”, a long-breathed final sigh that might be the last of one’s existence. For comparison here I turned to Gurney’s original version for voice and piano recorded in 2014 by tenor Robin Tritscher with Malcolm Martineau (Signum Classics SIGCD 401). This has a more intimate, sorrowful opening and more subtlety of definition with dynamic contrasts clearer, though lacking the orchestral colour. It’s a less hearty but more passionate account with the close here a grateful recollection.
Ivor Gurney’s setting of Elizabethan John Fletcher’s well-known poem, ‘Sleep’, was an inspiration to Gerald Finzi when he discovered it in 1919, and in 1949 he arranged Gurney’s original piano accompaniment for string orchestra. A miasma of gentle, muted strings conjures up the atmosphere conducive to drowsiness in which sleep can thrive, while the voice points its psychological significance. There’s a lovely solo viola treatment of Gurney’s piano ‘fioritura’ used to illustrate “fancies” (tr. 2, 0:46). Connolly vividly conveys a heartfelt search for an oasis of joy within this dream. For comparison I chose a recent orchestration by Iain Farrington, also featuring the Aurora Orchestra, 2014 vintage, this time with its Principal Conductor Nicolas Collon and the tenor soloist Allan Clayton (Warner Classics 2564 608223). Farrington uses solo strings but adds to these flute, oboe and clarinet, lingering a touch more when the voice is silent. Clayton seems very dry-eyed and analytical in comparison with Connolly, but the woodwind’s more open texture encourages the voice to blossom at “All my powers of care bereaving” and convincingly evoke “joys” in the top A flat climax, but Connolly achieves all this in a more internalized manner. Farringdon has the clarinet illustrate ‘fancies’ and I like his use of flute in the postlude showing the fulfilment of “some abiding” of the joys, pointing up the quality of Gurney’s piano original.
RVW expert Michael Kennedy considers that An Oxford Elegy is of the same quality as his Serenade to Music. I think that’s an overstatement: Matthew Arnold’s text, adapted from his The Scholar-Gipsy and Thyrsis, isn’t as immediately and tersely evocative as Shakespeare’s but RVW chose to make it clearer by having 112 lines of it spoken and only 28 lines sung by a small chorus. The work begins from Short with dreamy, murmuring strings and gently undulating, lambent woodwind and then enters a wordless chorus, ‘er’ opening out to ‘ah’ as its appreciation of the scene in floating melismas becomes more rapturous. We are in RVW’s Pastoral Symphony territory. When the narrator enters, the wordless chorus is identified as the shepherd being called from the hills, so human occupation and the natural environment are linked. Simon Callow appreciates Arnold’s verse in cultivated, gentlemanly voice, quiet yet absorbed. Recording technology makes this possible, in concert more projection would be required, the voice over an instrumental or wordless vocal backcloth, but in the intimacy of your home it works well. The closing 5 lines of the opening section beginning “Here will I sit and wait” are repeated by the chorus (tr. 3, 4:14) in the sultry longing of fruity harmonies and luxuriant orchestral backing which do recall the Serenade to Music. The second chorus, “That sweet city with her dreaming spires” (6:31) is a homage to the loveliness of Oxford as the shepherd looks down on it from the hill. This is music of utter contentment. The focus then turns to The Scholar-Gipsy who left Oxford to wander the hills, first with a bright-eyed curiosity on the bassoon (8:25), but very soon in wordless chorus more like a presence for ever roaming, “Still waiting for the spark from Heaven to fall”. By now I feel the narrator is imagining and identifying with the scholar who becomes more distinct as a viola solo (9:57) even with accompanying wordless chorus emanations. I’m puzzled why Callow says ‘The lines’ rather than “The line of festal light in Christ Church hall”, which is the text of line 129 of The Scholar-Gipsy and that of the 1982 full score and words in the CD booklet. But this passage of encounter with the scholar is so vividly realized, the contrast with the sudden recognition it was two hundred years ago the scholar was there is the more chilling. A dissonant oboe makes a touch unquiet the unknown grave, but a brief chorus of desolation, “The bloom is gone”, is succeeded by a warmly relaxed, expansive one of celebration of new life, “Soon will the high Midsummer pomps come on” (14:57). This brings a stronger sense of fruition owing to the scarcity of sung words hitherto. The speaker at once reminds us that the scholar has gone but consoles us he’ll be back next year. The wordless melismas become cosy, resting in the comfort of a very soft “He will return”, straightway crushed by a very loud “Never more”. The narrator clings to countryside associations with the past only to realize these too have vanished. And you discover this work is about loss and coping with it. The stern chorus “Yes, thou art gone!’ (18:25) faces it while still grieving, accepting the resolution is in ‘The mountain tops, where is the throne of Truth!” Yet despair can be countered by the panacea of the romance of eternal wandering. The closing 4 lines of narration beginning “Why faintest thou?” are repeated in a final chorus (21:30). This made me feel a place imbues the appreciation and spiritual quests of those who passed through it and also that RVW has sensitively set a complex text.
I compared the most recent other recording, made in 2014 by the City of London Choir and London Mozart Players/Hilary Davan Whetton with Jeremy Irons as narrator (Naxos 8.573426). Whetton is a touch faster, timing at 22:01 to Short’s 22:51. He brings a more propulsive flow to the opening. It’s all fresh and folksong-like, but I prefer Short’s more dreamy, contemplative quality and smoother Tenebrae chorus, with more marked softness in the opening melismas and when the sound opens out the contrast less dramatic. Irons comes across vividly as a realistic story-teller, confiding to us, and makes very notable that key phrase “the spark from Heaven” to which Whetton’s City of London Choir (hereafter COLC) eagerly responds. Callow delights more, as Arnold clearly did, in the poesy, the love of the words themselves particularly chosen at any point. His voice is also given a clearer focus in the recording overall. And he has a way of saying ‘Oxford’, with a clipped emphasis on ‘Ox’ and split- second pause before ‘ford’ which calls you to attention and makes its significance special, as then expanded by the chorus of homage. While I like COLC’s sense of quiet thrill here, I prefer Tenebrae’s balminess. In general, Short’s vocal and instrumental poise enhances appreciation of the work further than Whetton’s bright clarity. For instance, the glint of ‘The white evening star’ (16:10), sopranos’ high F sharp but pp, comes more sensitively controlled, more glint and less beam from Short.
Valiant-for-Truth is RVW’s setting of Mr Valiant-for-Truth’s speech in The Pilgrim’s Progress, that of one who, about to pass over, can evidence his endeavours and is rewarded at the end by the trumpets sounding for him on the other side. It’s unaccompanied throughout, the organ or piano introduction being optional. This performance starts with Sarah Connolly alone singing the mezzo passage, wonderfully poised. I would never begrudge any extra 24 seconds of Sarah, but having this quasi recitativo passage sung by a soloist, albeit not so marked by RVW, the same procedure should have been applied to the equivalent soprano passage at “When he understood it” (tr. 4, 0:46) and the bass one at “I am going to my Father’s” (1:03) which is the beginning of the speech until the text from “My sword, I give to him” (1:46) becomes the property of the entire chorus. That text is shown by Short here to be in a more declamatory choral style to contrast with the earlier manner of reverence plus a sense of enacted ritual. And I think there’s a good case for having the quasi recitativo passages sung by a soloist, because the care with which RVW balances that fuller text in the ‘recitative’ with key selections from it in the accompanying parts becomes more apparent, while he briefly continues this even in the full chorus material at “I have fought his battles” (2:23). And now at “When the day that he must go hence” (2:56) we’re treated to another 19 seconds of Sarah. But she’s upstaged by the mystical quality of the ppp passing over in the maternal care of sopranos and altos, then the full chorus’ soft madrigalian sounding of trumpets, a passage that could have been written by Tippett, before the welcoming loud fanfares of the close, very straightforward yet transfixing.
I compared the 1998 recording by the Richard Hickox Singers/Richard Hickox (Chandos CHAN 9666). This also has no instrumental introduction, but there are no passages sung by solo voice here. Timing the piece at 5:59 to Short’s 5:24, Hickox’s interpretation of RVW’s Lento marking is a touch more expansive. This brings more of a feel of deliberation to the text, appropriate in the circumstances, especially when counterbalanced by a more dramatic approach. To its first radiant moment, the steadily achieved realization of “who now will be my rewarder” Hickox brings more conviction and sense of journey fulfilled where Short’s serenity (2:27) is smooth and luminescent yet more easily achieved.
Lord, Thou hast been our refuge begins by fusing together the text of Psalm 90, as in the title, sung by semi-chorus, and its paraphrase by Isaac Watts, “O God our help in ages past” sung by the chorus to William Croft’s tune. Michael Kennedy thinks this is an “uneasily contrived juxtaposition” which can work provided that RVW’s dynamics are carefully observed. This in the main means that the chorus mustn’t obscure the semi-chorus. Short avoids this, partly because his chorus isn’t large. But there’s another problem: his semi-chorus, beautifully sung though it is, for me is rather too smooth. I feel the sudden, brief incursion from D major to D minor at “Thou turnest man to destruction” (tr. 5, 0:58) should be starker. In the second section for full chorus “As soon as thou scatterest them” we’re into modal lamentation, think Allegri’s Miserere, but it seems to skip along. When we get into G minor with the semi-chorus lead “For we consume away in Thy displeasure” (2:40) it is more emotive and the chorus’s suddenly loud “For when Thou art angry” is a suitable shock. Later the exchange between semi-chorus and chorus “Turn Thee again O Lord at the last” is fittingly imploring, yet somehow the vision of gladness all the days of our life which ends this section in E flat major and gorgeous basses’ low E flats doesn’t quite feel earned. But we’re into the closing section of celebration when the very opening text is now declaimed ff by both choruses, the Croft tune given to solo trumpet.
I compared the 2017 recording by St John’s College Cambridge Choir/Andrew Nethsingha (Signum SIGCD 541). Timing at 9:17 to Short’s 8:18, Nethsingha takes more account of the first element of the marking Lento moderato, I think to advantage. An all-male chapel choir arguably suits better the psalm setting and environment. Interestingly the opening semi-chorus presented as a duet of soloists sounds like a cultivated baritone priest leading a dutiful treble, but both are clear and the chorus hymn well balanced and yet firmly expressed to boot. St John’s Choir’s modal lamentation is more intent, though Tenebrae provide more of a shudder at ‘For when Thou art angry’. The reverence of St John’s Choir’s “Turn Thee again” section makes for a smoother transition to the vision of gladness. Now when both choruses join the singing is notably lustier and Nethsingha’s close has a more full-throated ecstatic edge than Short’s.
The strength and uniqueness of A walk with Ivor Gurney, by which I mean the two CDs under review, lies in its illuminating quality as a programme, bringing together shared themes, approaches and techniques from four composers and two arrangers across one hundred and three years, a sharing which doesn’t dilute but rather clarifies their individual distinctiveness. Add to this Sarah Connolly in glorious voice and the whole product is special. Michael Greenhalgh
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