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Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in A [11:57]
Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988)
Magnificat and Nunc dimittis (The Second Service), Op. 62 [11:14]
Herbert SUMSION (1899-1995)
Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in A [8:11]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
Magnificat and Nunc dimittis (Gloucester Service) [11:49]
Gabriel JACKSON (b. 1962)
Magnificat and Nunc dimittis (Truro Service) [7:37]
Sir Michael TIPPETT (1905-1998)
12. Magnificat and Nunc dimittis (Collegium Sancti Johannis Cantabrigiense) [7:56]
Glen Dempsey (organ)
Choir of St John’s College Cambridge/Andrew Nethsingha
rec. 2018, Chapel of St John’s College, Cambridge, UK

The series of recordings that Signum are producing for St John’s College, Cambridge, is rapidly becoming one of the most collectible things to emerge from the recording industry in Britain today. Beautifully produced and expertly curated, each disc focuses on a composer or a theme, and Andrew Nethsingha and his crack forces do a most excellent job of bringing it to life.

For this newest release they turn their attention to something that is at the very heart of what they do: namely the evening canticles of Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis which they sing almost every evening of the year (or, at least, of term). These canticles have been at the very centre of the Anglican musical tradition since the reformation, and even longer if you count their Latin monastic antecedents, so there is an almost bottomless collection of music they could choose for this disc. With typical good sense, Nethsingha has restricted himself to British settings from the last century or so, and in doing so has produced a collection that gives a window into the inexhaustible richness and variety of what the Anglican tradition has to offer.

Stanford’s Magnificat ripples with Victorian confidence, while his Nunc dimittis is more thoughtfully refined. Leighton’s introduces an air of mysticism that’s a world away from Stanford’s symphonic conception, using ostinati that reflect the repeated pattern of daily worship and building successively towards a series of highly satisfying climaxes. There is an almost pastoral beauty to Sumison’s setting which I found very appealing, and Howells’ wonderful Gloucester Service is allowed full rein to run on its meandering way in a very attractive way, the Nunc dimittis sounding spellbinding, almost ghostly at times. Gabriel Jackson, the only living composer on the disc, writes a beautifully euphonious setting in the Truro Service. Nethsingha commissioned it back in 2001, and it derives much of its power from its practice of alternating verses between homophonic and polyphonic settings. It’s very effective, almost hypnotic in places, and the unexpected shifts of tonality make it an exciting as well an uplifting experience. Tippett’s setting was commissioned by George Guest to commemorate the college’s 450th anniversary, and it makes extensive use of the organ’s famous en chamade trumpet stop, which gives it a colour that nothing else on the disc has.

The recording is typically excellent, placing the two halves of the choir in perfectly spaced stereo, and the booklet notes are especially generous: the Dean provides a reflection on the texts, while Nethsingha himself contributes thirteen pages (!) of thoughts on the music of each setting. In short, utterly praiseworthy.

Simon Thompson

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