Vaughan Williams Bursts of Acclamation David Briggs ALBCD22
Here is a very nicely-produced double-disc set from Albion, the label of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society (no connection with our publication—Ed), with an attractive booklet including generously extensive notes from John Francis and excellent documentation (including the registration of the organ at the Sacred Heart Church, Wimbledon, where the album was recorded). Included is all of Vaughan Williams’s organ music, along with a number of transcriptions made by a variety of people: organist David Briggs himself, Herbert Sumsion, and Henry Ley. Some of these, naturally, are more successful than others (I confess myself unconvinced by the suitability of The Wasps for organ). Indisputable, however, are Briggs’s virtuosic and extremely impressive performances, and the importance of this disc to organ fanatics!
Bantock/Vaughan Williams The Pilgrim’s Progress BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Chorus, Sir Adrian Boult, Sir John Gielgud ALBC023/24
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED A riotous opening is provided to this disc in the form of the first of two choruses from Bantock’s music for The Pilgrim’s Progress, in a performance dating from 1929 with the National Choir and BBC Wireless Symphony Orchestra under Stanford Robinson. The second chorus, a chorale, is gentler, although the sound quality, as would be expected from a recording of this age, is fairly poor. The rest of the double-disc set is given over to Vaughan Williams’s incidental music to the radio play The Pilgrim’s Progress, from a BBC broadcast in 1943 with Sir John Gielgud as Christian. Sir Adrian Boult conducts the BBC Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra in a fine performance. This is deeply-felt music, and the recording here is incredibly moving. Beautiful music, beautiful words and beautiful elocution: not to be missed.
Christopher Simpson Ayres and Graces Chelys Consort of Viols, Dan Tidhar, James Akers BIS 2153 SACD
In this fine release we find a combination of excellent recording quality (and here I should declare an interest, as I use the very fine producer / engineer duo of Bennett and Rowell for my own label EM Records), good music-making, and lovely production values. The booklet is attractively presented and features not just informative and interesting notes, but appropriate and enjoyable illustrations and musical examples as well. The music – Divisions and Ayres by the 17th century composer Christopher Simpson — is uplifting and joyful. The lilting, dancing tunes and strong rhythmical beats are brought to the fore by the Chelys Consort of Viols and by Dan Tidhar and James Akers, who provide the continuo on chamber organ, harpsichord, theorbo and baroque guitar. Gentle and enjoyable.
British Composers Première Collection Vol.1 Karelia State Philharmonic Orchestra, Marius Stravinsky CC9037CD
Some fine and unjustly overlooked works are here given their first recordings. The disc opens with Dorothy Howell’s rich symphonic poem Lami, which is followed by the most substantial work on the album, the Symphony in C by Maurice Blower – a lush, sumptuous, gorgeous work of immense attractiveness. Holbrooke’s whimsical Variations on The Girl I Left Behind Me completes the interesting programme. These are superb works and good, strong performances by the Karelia State Philharmonic Orchestra under Marius Stravinsky. The release is slightly let down by rather flimsy paper in the booklet, which has no track listing in the front or any information on the orchestra. Nevertheless, definitely recommended.
British Composers Première Collection Vol.2 Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Laus CC9032CD
This disc features extremely attractive music by Maurice Blower, Robin Milford, Frederick Kelly and Walter Gaze Cooper. It opens with Blower’s Eclogue for horn (played by Jose Garcia Gutierrez) and strings. A haunting horn melody floats over evocative shimmering strings before jauntier tunes set in, and the piece concludes with an atmosphere of contented romantic reflection. Written in 1951, it holds echoes of both Britten and Finzi. The following Milford Suite for oboe and strings (with soloist John McDonough) is likewise a gorgeously romantic work, with characterful and assured writing, whilst the Kelly Serenade for flute (Rebecca Hall), with accompaniment of harp, horn and string orchestra, is captivating and, to my mind, has an overwhelmingly ’outdoors’ feel – evoking flowing brooks, mountainous landscapes and woodlands. The Cooper Concertino for oboe and strings has a more enigmatic air, and the disc concludes with Blower’s Horn Concerto, another atmospheric work, with some virtuosic passages for the heroic soloist. Performances from the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra under Michael Laus are of a high standard throughout. This is a hugely enjoyable disc, although the booklet – despite featuring good notes from Gareth Vaughan – could be of a slightly higher standard from the printing and design point of view.
Bliss Morning Heroes, Hymn to Apollo BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davies, Samuel West CHSA5159
This superb account of Bliss’s deeply-felt and moving Morning Heroes features the BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra in fine form under Sir Andrew Davis, and Samuel West as the narrator of the carefully-chosen texts about war by Homer, Walt Whitman, Wilfred Owen, Robert Nichols and Li Tai Po. The recording boasts excellent sound, striking emotional intensity and gorgeously rich performances from the orchestra and the choir. Morning Heroes is complemented well here by Hymn to Apollo, in its original 1926 version. This is an extremely powerful and poignant disc, and a must for any lover of English music.
British Clarinet Quintets Stephan Siegenthaler, Leipziger Streichquartett CPO 777 905-2
This is a truly superb disc of exquisite works, given exemplary performances. The album opens with Somervell’s gorgeous and lyrical Quintet in G, qualities which Stephan Siegenthaler and the Leipziger Streichquartett (comprising violinists Stefan Arzberger and Tilmann Buning, violist Ivo Bauer and cellist Matthias Moosdorf) bring out nicely, along with a breath of fresh air in the dancing Finale. The Coleridge-Taylor is given an equally passionate and breezy performance, with a particularly affecting second movement Largetto affetuoso, and the disc concludes with Richard Walthew’s one-movement Short Quintet (1917-18), an introspective and tender work, well worth hearing. The ensemble and intonation are impeccable, and playing is incisive and energetic throughout.
Remember Me My Dear Fires of Love DCD34129
This thoroughly enjoyable disc is given an extremely effective and atmospheric opening with a setting of Shakespeare’s And He Will Not Come Again, sung by Frances Cooper in her rather fragile soprano (which nevertheless works well for these songs). Music featured ranges from song settings of poems by Alexander Montgomerie and Scottish lute music through to pieces by Campion, Dowland and Pilkington, and Shakespeare settings. The performers – Cooper, Marcus Claridge on percussion, Gordon Ferries on four-course Renaissance guitar and lute, and Jonathan Hugh-Jones on recorders, second lute and occasionally voice – all provide convincing, energetic and lively renditions of beautiful and memorable works.
Purcell’s Revenge Concerto Caledonia, David McGuiness, Olivia Chaney, James Bowman, Ana Silvera, Jim Moray DCD34161
A warning first: this is not a disc for purists (my father fled the room in horror on hearing Jim Moray singing Fairest Isle!) but those who love folksong and are open to new interpretations will enjoy the energy, vivacity, new angles and insights that this release offers. It presents a combination of pure Purcell performed by classical singers (Sweeter than Roses is sung beautifully by James Bowman), Purcell interpreted by folk musicians (Music for a While with Moray, for instance), folksongs and early music, with much experimentation and crossing of genres the while. Personally I enjoyed it, but I realise that it will not be everyone’s cup of tea. Production values are high, with good recorded sound, and there is also a decently-produced booklet with words, notes and colour photos on thick paper and a clear and spacious layout and design.
DEUTSCHE HARMONIA MUNDI
The Eton Choirbook Huelgas Ensemble, Van Nevel 88765408852
This is a gorgeously presented disc, with a beautiful 16th-century painting of the Annunciation (artist/artists unknown) adorning the cover, the disc tray and the back of the booklet. Imaginative fonts and designs are used throughout, and there is also a 17th-century drawing of Eton College. Words are provided, and there are fairly brief but nevertheless interesting notes by the director, Paul Van Nevel. The music itself – all drawn from The Eton Choirbook, a collection of late 15th-century sacred music by 24 English composers – comprises five works, the first three of which are world première recordings: Sutton’s Salve Regina, Horewud’s Magnificat, Sturton’s Gaude Virgo Mater Christi, Browne’s Stabat Mater and Wylkynson’s Salve Regina. The music and performances are glorious: the soaring voice-lines are sympathetically delivered, although the seamless beauty is occasionally at the expense of a little passion.
Remembering Alfred Deller Bowman, Blaze, Turner, Robinson DDA 25114
Countertenors James Bowman and Robin Blaze are joined by recorder players John Turner and Laura Robinson, Tim Smedley on cello, guitarist Dave Bainbridge and Ian Thompson on harpsichord in this tribute disc to Alfred Deller. The booklet opens with a preface from Mark Deller, Alfred’s son, in which he in turn remembers several of the composers whose music features on the disc and who were associated with Alfred. Works by these composers – Walter Bergmann, Michael Tippett and Peter Racine Fricker – are complemented by one piece from another modern composer, Alan Ridout, and by the music of the earlier William Williams, Blow and Handel. As one would expect of these musicians, the performance is of a high standard, although I was personally less convinced by the modern pieces (Bergmann’s Pastorale for countertenor and recorder and Three Songs for countertenor and guitar, Tippett’s Four Inventions for two recorders, Ridout’s Soliloquy, and Fricker’s Elegy) than the earlier works.
Britten, Delius, Milford Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, David Lloyd-Jones, Nicholas Collin, Philippe Griffon CDLX7320
Delius’s Violin Concerto opens this rather wonderful programme. I usually find new renditions of this work hard to listen to, being entirely wedded to Sammons’s, in my view, unsurpassable version. Yet of all modern performances, this is perhaps the closest to my ideal thanks to Graffin’s radiant and tender playing – with just a touch of an older air. It is followed by the world première recording of Robin Milford’s The Darkling Thrush, in a brooding and mysteriously beautiful performance, and the disc concludes with an incisive and energetic rendition of Britten’s Violin Concerto.
Vaughan Williams Concerto for Two Pianos; A London Symphony Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Martin Yates, Leon McCawley, John Lineman CDLX 7322
Here we have very fine performances of Vaughan Williams’s Concerto for Two Pianos and A London Symphony from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Martin Yates, with Leon McCawley and John Lenehan the pianists. A high tone was immediately set for a top-quality performance of the Concerto, with soloists and orchestra creating a nice bounce. I was also impressed by the orchestra / piano balance, which seemed absolutely spot on. The performance of A London Symphony is the revised 1920 version, and a gripping one it is too, with a particularly suitable sense of majesty in the appropriate parts (such as the Lento) and a tremendous atmosphere throughout.
John Taverner Missa Corona Spine The Tallis Scholars; Peter Phillips CDGIM 046
The Tallis Scholars give a superb account of this seminal, exuberant Mass. In its fiendishly high soaring treble lines, the sopranos achieve impressively precise intonation, although their sound is somewhat hard and unrelenting rather than ethereal and beautiful. However, a good sense of celebration and luxuriance overall is captured in this gloriously grand and showy piece. The booklet contains good notes by Peter Phillips, although the presentation is somewhat crowded and does not lie kindly on the eye.
British Music for Oboe and Strings Orchestra Nova, George Vass, Jinny Shaw GMCD 7383
This is a well-played disc of works that are rather terse in nature, dating from 1930 through to recent years. The earliest piece is Britten’s Phantasy for oboe (Jinny Shaw), violin (Sara Trickey), viola (Sarah-Jane Bradley) and cello (Bozidar Vukotic), an assured work written at the age of 18. Also included are Concertos for oboe and strings by Joubert and Leighton, John McCabe’s Concerto for oboe and orchestra and Cecilia McDowall’s evocative Y Deryn Pur (The Gentle Dove). Shaw is an accomplished soloist, and the Orchestra Nova plays well under the conductorship of George Vass.
Peter Fribbins Dances & Laments Turner Ensemble, Rosamunde Piano Trio GMCD 7397
A variety of artists feature on this disc of works by contemporary composer Peter Fribbins. The album opens with The Zong Affair, based on Turner’s The Slave Ships, with the Turner Ensemble. This is followed by Dances and Laments with celebrated violinist Philippe Graffin, and Henri Demarquette on cello; “... that which echoes in eternity,” inspired by the eponymous quotation from Dante’s Inferno with cellist Pal Banda and pianist Helen Crayford; Porphyria’s Lover with Crayford again, and Nancy Ruffer on flute; and Softly, In the Dusk, performed by the Rosamunde Piano Trio, who commissioned the work in 2007. The disc concludes with the Chorale Prelude and Fugue on Cromer with Michael Frith at the organ.
Elgar The Apostles Hallé, Sir Mark Elder CD HLD 7534
A very fine recording indeed of Elgar’s The Apostles from the Hallé under Sir Mark Elder. He captures perfectly the sense of drama and nobility inherent in the work, ably assisted by his superb cast of singers: Rebecca Evans as Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, Alice Coote as Mary Magdalene and the second narrator, Paul Groves as the narrator, Jacques Imbrailo as Jesus, David Kempster as Peter and Brindley Sherratt as Judas. Singers and orchestra put heart and soul into this performance, which is consequently full of passion as well as sensitivity.
Holst Hymn of Jesus Delius Sea Drift & Cynara Hallé, Hallé Choir, Hallé Youth Choir; Sir Mark Elder, Roderick Williams CD HLL 7535
This disc begins with Holst’s Hymn of Jesus, and the opening of the piece is indeed a strong start, with a superb monastic quality to the singing in the Prelude – really effective. However, the Hymn itself I found very disappointing indeed. The choir’s intonation is absolutely perfect, but their diction and enunciation are far from ideal: one cannot hear the words at all. Elder’s interpretation of the Holst is all ironed out, as if he were conducting Elgar. The dissonances and mystery are smoothed over and tamed – it’s terribly polite and pretty, with far too much restraint, completely lacking in the primal energy and wildness that Holst needs. I was also unconvinced by the balance (the timps in particular sound too far back, again adding to the sense of tameness). In contrast, both the Delius works – Sea Drift and Cynara – are fabulous, especially with Roderick Williams as soloist, and I found these completely convincing.
Tallis Ave, Dei patris filia The Cardinall’s Musick, CDA68095
The Cardinall’s Musick excel here in a collection of sections from services, along with early Latin settings, by Thomas Tallis. Ave, Dei patris filia is the most substantial and perhaps most important work on the disc, presented here, as it is, with a reconstruction of its missing parts. It is a work of searing beauty, performed with tremendous tenderness. Yet particularly memorable for me are the Christmassy E’en Like the Hunted Hind and Expend, O Lord. This very carefully chosen selection of pieces makes one of the most enjoyable Tallis discs that I have as yet encountered.
Parry I Was Glad, Coronation Te Deum, The Great Service, Blest Pair of Sirens The Choir of Westminster Abbey, Onyx Brass, James O’Donnell CDA68089
A handsome-looking disc, although the sumptuous cover and CD tray are just slightly let down by the rather cramped booklet notes (by Jeremy Dibble) and texts – which very much imply a frantic attempt to keep booklet pages down. The music itself, and the performances thereof, are glorious. We have a very occasional wobble in intonation from the choristers when they are slightly exposed, but otherwise the music-making is of a very high standard. In a disc which contains a mixture of much-loved works (Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, Jerusalem and Blest Pair of Sirens) as well as some perhaps less-familiar pieces such as the Great ServiceMagnificat and Nunc Dimittis, Fantasia and Fugue in G major and Coronation Te Deum, this is to be greatly welcomed.
The Tudors at Prayer Magnificat Philip Cave CKD 447
This disc continues the high standards of presentation, music-making and sound quality that one has come to expect from Linn. The cover design and CD tray at once catch the eye, whilst texts and good notes are included in the booklet. Eight sacred works by Mundy, White, Taverner, Tallis and Byrd comprise the well-thought-out programme. Performances are exquisitely beautiful.
_______________________________ The English Song Collection
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED (comprises the following three discs):
Vaughan Williams, Bliss, Gurney On Wenlock Edge James Gilchrist, Anna Tilbrook, The Fitzwilliam String Quartet CKD 296
On Wenlock Edge opens an excellent programme which also includes Warlock’s The Curlew, Bliss’s Elegiac Sonnet and Gurney’s Ludlow and Teme. One is at once impressed by a furious and passionate version of the eponymous opening song On Wenlock Edge, with Gilchrist in fine form (his enunciation is, as one has come to expect from him, superb). The following songs are equally outstanding – there is a fabulously chilling rendition, for example, of Is My Team Ploughing, while the opening of Bredon Hill features searingly beautiful singing and a glorious sense of stillness and peace. Gilchrist and the Fitzwilliam are joined by Michael Cox (flute) and Gareth Hulse on the cor anglais for a moving version of The Curlew, whilst the Elegiac Sonnet, an intriguing work, is here given a convincing and very welcome performance. The disc concludes as admirably as it commenced, with a sensitive rendition of the lovely Ludlow and Teme cycle. Excellent sound and a nicely produced booklet add to the charms of the disc, as if any further persuasion were necessary to purchase it!
Oh Fair to See James Gilchrist, Anna Tilbrook CKD 253
This disc is as excellent as the previous one in all respects – performance, sound quality and presentation –the sole drawback being that the booklet does not contain a listing of tracks. Three song cycles by Finzi are included (Oh Fair to See, Till Earth Outwears and A Young Man’s Exhortation), and the performances are as sensitive and touching as one could hope for. Gilchrist and his accompanist Tilbrook communicate the songs with exquisite emotion and conviction.
Kenneth Leighton, Britten Earth, Sweet Earth...(Laudes Terrae) Winter Words James Gilchrist, Anna Tilbrook CKD 329
More strong performances, this time of two terser works, Leighton’s Earth, Sweet Earth...(Laudes Terrae) and Britten’s Winter Words, here given a gripping and fluent performance by James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook. Another pleasing booklet – with appropriately wintery imagery throughout – includes in-depth notes and texts. Gilchrist’s diction, expression, and communication of emotion are as excellent as ever. ______________________________
John Ward Fantasies & Verse Anthems Phantasm, Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford CKD 427
This disc presents a selection of fantasias and anthems by the really rather wonderful and often under-rated composer John Ward. It is, again, beautifully presented, with a lavish booklet full of photographs, texts, and excellent notes from Laurence Dreyfus, Phantasm’s director. The music is uplifting and beautiful, and the performances from Phantasm are excellent, although I was less convinced by the vocal soloists. The intonation of the boy altos here is just occasionally a little suspect, and, moreover, their vibrato is sometimes rather wild —I cannot help feeling that a ‘purer’ sound with less vibrato would work better. The same point applies to the vibrato of the tenor and bass soloists, which also strikes me as a little excessive. The ensemble singing, on the other hand, is top quality.
British String Concertos SRCD 2346
This four-disc set features fourteen works by twelve composers, arranged roughly chronologically. Disc One thus commences with Coleridge-Taylor’s gorgeous Violin Concerto, here given a slightly earth-bound performance by Lorraine McAslan with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Braithwaite (whose name is misspelt in the booklet). Holst features thrice on the same disc, with his Double Concerto for two Violins and Orchestra and the Invocation and Lyric Movement (which are not technically concertos – but with music this fabulous, who cares?) The English Chamber Orchestra in the Double Concerto produce a very harsh sound, which does slightly detract, but it is nevertheless excellent to have the three works included. The final piece on Disc One is Finzi’s lovely Introit with Rodney Friend and the LPO again, this time conducted by Adrian Boult. Disc Two features Rubbra’s Soliloquy for Cello and Orchestra with Handley conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, Moeran’s Violin Concerto with Georgiadis, Handley and the LSO again, and William Busch’s Cello Concerto with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Handley and Raphael Wallfisch. The latter is a vivid and dynamic performance, with Wallfisch giving the work most passionate advocacy. Disc Three is Roberto Gerhard’s Violin Concerto and Maconchy’s Serenata Concertante for Violin and Orchestra –terser, more modern, abrasive works – and Fricker’s Concerto for Violin and Small Orchestra, which I found to have a haunting beauty. Likewise on Disc Four I found David Morgan’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, really rather lovely and lyrical, an interesting and attractive work. It features alongside Don Banks’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra and Hoddinott’s Nocturne and Cadenzas for cello and orchestra. On the whole this is an excellent set, full of strong performances of important works.
British Piano Concertos SRCD 2345
Another four-disc set from Lyrita, this time of British Piano Concertos, opening with one of the very best ever written – Stanford’s Second. Unfortunately the sound quality isn’t particularly good here, rather tinny and muddy. This piece is followed by a very quiet and gentle rendition of Finzi’s lovely Eclogue by Peter Katin, with Handley conducting the New Philharmonia Orchestra, and Disc One finishes with Foulds’s staggeringly brilliant Dynamic Triptych with Howard Shelley, the RPO and Handley. A very strong opening disc. Disc Two commences with Bridge’s Phantasm, which is here given an appropriately other-worldly quality by Peter Wallfisch and the LPO conducted by Nicholas Braithwaite. Also on the second disc is Vaughan Williams’s Piano Concerto in C –-again with Shelley, the RPO and Handley—and Rawsthorne’s underrated Piano Concerto No. 1 with Malcolm Binns, the LSO and Braithwaite. Disc Three comprises Scott’s poem Early One Morning, Ireland’s Legend, the Busch Piano Concerto (for which the booklet credits Raphael Wallfisch as the cello soloist!) and Moeran’s wonderful Rhapsody in F Sharp for Piano and Orchestra. The final disc is more abstruse, with Berkeley’s Piano Concerto in B Flat, Hoddinott’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Malcolm Williamson’s Piano Concerto No. 3. Another excellent set and highly recommended.
Cyril Rootham Symphony No. 2, Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Scottish Philharmonic Singers; BBC Concert Orchestra, BBC Singers, Handley REAM.2118
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED This double disc set of works by Cyril Rootham presents the Second Symphony on the first disc and the Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity on disc two. The Symphony, performed here by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Handley, is a very attractive work, if unexceptional. It is given a fine, convincing performance, and has a particularly pleasant final movement with choral inclusion (the Scottish Philharmonic Singers). The real gem, though, is the Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity – a lovely work, and here given a fine performance by the BBC Concert Orchestra under Handley. Philip Langridge shines as the tenor, while the soprano Teresa Cahill and bass-baritone Michael Rippon are also featured. The BBC Singers are good, but the Trinity Boys Choir, alas, let the side down with dodgy intonation. Never mind —it is still very much worth buying the disc in order to hear this gorgeous festive piece.
Walter Leigh Jolly Roger BBC Concert Orchestra, Ashley Lawrence REAM.2116
This is a fine performance of Walter Leigh’s comic opera (a musical burlesque), Jolly Roger or The Admiral’s Daughter, with the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Ambrosian Singers conducted by Ashley Lawrence. The cast includes Neilson Taylor, Alan Dudley, Vernon Midgley, Leslie Fyson, Gordon Faith, Marietta Midgley, Helen Landis and Patricia Whitmore. The BBC recording was broadcast in 1972, and the sound is very good. The documentation in the booklet is also good, with evocative photographs of a 1933 performance at The Savoy. The music itself is attractive and the performance most effective, with excellent singing, spoken text and playing from all involved.
E.J. Moeran Folksong Arrangements Adrian Thompson, Marcus Farnsworth, John Talbot, Members of the Weybridge Male Voice Choir 8.571359 HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
This wonderful collection of folksongs arranged by E. J. Moeran includes the Six Folksongs from Norfolk of 1924 with baritone Marcus Farnsworth, Six Suffolk Folksongs of 1932 with both Farnsworth and tenor Adrian Thompson, and Songs from County Kerry of 1950 with Thompson. John Talbot is the sensitive and adroit pianist throughout, and members of the Weybridge Male Voice Choir join in a few of the stand-alone songs. The result is a lovely disc: well-performed, and with a fabulous mix of songs, from bold and swaggering to delicate and melancholic. The disc – which was recorded in 2010 – was previously released on the BMS label.
Richard Blackford Voices of Exile The Bach Choir, Philharmonia Orchestra, New London Children’s Choir, David Hill NI 6264
As so often with Richard Blackford’s music, I found this almost unbearable to listen to: the poignancy is too powerful, the charged emotion overwhelming. The music gives a voice to those who have been exiled, and opens with a setting for tenor and chorus of Poetry after Auschwitz. This at once sets the tone for a tremendous outpouring of passion and grief. Incredibly effective is the interweaving of taped songs and poems, including a Tibetan verse, the ’cry’ of a Somalian singer, Macedonian and Bengali folksongs. Blackford sets these and other elements sensitively and fascinatingly. The performances by The Bach Choir, the Philharmonia Orchestra and the New London Children’s Choir conducted by David Hill, with Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Gregory Kunde and Gerald Finley as soloists, are all of the very highest standard. The documentation is top-notch too. All the texts are provided, there are informative notes from Blackford himself, and the presentation is good. All in all, an immensely affecting and moving piece – handkerchiefs at the ready!
Time Stands Still – Elizabethan and Jacobean Songs and Keyboard Music Simon Ponsford, David Ponsford NI 6255
This disc of 24 songs and instrumental works by Byrd, Dowland, Rosseter, Gibbons, Johnson, Ford and Tomkins includes many much-loved favourites as well as several lesser-known pieces. David Ponsford is excellent on virginals and harpsichord, although Simon Ponsford’s voice occasionally comes over as rather strained and harsh, with the odd lapse of intonation. The disc is nicely presented with all the texts, and interesting and informative notes of a decent length by David Ponsford.
Christmas Music Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Stephen Darlington NI 7096
This disc of Christmas music opens atmospherically with the plainchant hymn A Solis Ortus Cardine, which is followed by the riotous Matthias Ave Rex before a second ‘half’ of more reflective music, with works by Tavener, Byrd, Sheppard, Poulenc, Palestrina and Esteves. The boys of Christ Church Cathedral Choir are superb, the men occasionally a little underpowered.
Holst The Planets; St Paul’s Suite Simon Johnson PRCD1144
It’s an intriguing idea —a performance of Holst’s The Planets suite solely on the organ, and one has to admire both the tremendous performance from Simon Johnson, and the imagination that has gone into the registration. The choristers of St Paul’s Cathedral are wonderful in Neptune, and the vast echoing acoustic of St Paul’s creates a splendidly mysterious atmosphere, although the rest of the recording, with just the solo organ, comes across as rather muddy on occasion. Some sections of this transcription by Peter Sykes naturally come off far better than others (such as the opening of Jupiter). On the whole, however, for me this project doesn’t really work. It was interesting to listen to, but I can’t imagine wanting to turn to the organ version for pleasure, when one could listen instead to Holst’s own glorious original orchestral version. The Planets is followed by Simon Johnson’s organ transcription of the St Paul’s Suite, which I felt was rather more successful than The Planets --I was surprised, in fact, by how well it worked. On the whole a well-executed and interesting disc, but not really a serious contender compared with Holst’s original versions.
Christmas Music Through the Ages CDSDL437
A festive frolic fabulous for those who (like me) love early music, folk, and all things off the beaten track. Thus, here we have masses of Maddy Prior, along with the York Waits, the Mellstock Band, Sneak’s Noyse and the Carnival Band, contrasting with the Rose Consort of Viols, the monks and nuns of Prinknash and Stanbrook Abbeys, and the Bristol Bach Choir. There are also handbells, mechanical pianos, music boxes and bagpipes. I had feared that the second of this two-disc set would be more modern works – but thankfully it is all more of the same! The notes are extremely brief (the tracks are all re-issues from other discs) and there are errors in the booklet, but texts are included, and with such a glorious compilation of the early, mediaeval, raucous, West Gallery and downright weird, who cares?
Ian Venables The Song of the Severn Roderick Williams, Carducci String Quartet, Graham J Lloyd SIGCD424
An incredibly powerful opening gets this fabulous disc of works by Ian Venables off to a superb start, with The Song of the Severn, a song-cycle setting of poems by Masefield, Housman, Drinkwater and Worner for baritone, string quartet and piano. The wonderful Roderick Williams is on top form – his rich, dark, sumptuous voice works superbly well in these impassioned songs. The enunciation and communication of the words and the intense emotions behind them are as exemplary as ever, and he is here excellently accompanied by the Carducci Quartet and Graham Lloyd. The piece is followed by another cycle for baritone and piano, The Pine Boughs Past Music, a tribute to Ivor Gurney. It is a setting of three of his poems, with a final movement In Memoriam: Ivor Gurney. There are also five further songs for baritone and piano and four for baritone and string quartet. As ever, Venables’ music is strongly in the English solo song tradition, and thus extraordinarily beautiful (especially when sung like this), but he could never be mistaken for another composer—his voice is unmistakable. Great stuff.
Parry English Lyrics and Other Songs Vol. 1 Susan Gritton, James Gilchrist, Roderick Williams, Andrew West SOMMCD 257
This excellent release features English lyrics and sonnets set by Sir Hubert Parry, performed by a star cast of artists. Susan Gritton fills the soprano role: she has a rich, full and mature voice, but with a pleasing ability to soar when needed. I also much enjoyed her vibrato, which is never excessive. When it comes to the songs for male voice, I could not think of better exponents than James Gilchrist and Roderick Williams, as featured here. Unsurprisingly, their involvement renders this disc the best it could possibly be. The songs themselves are, as one would expect from a composer of Parry’s stature, very finely crafted: tender, passionate, romantic and lyrical. The booklet includes notes from Professor Jeremy Dibble as well as texts, and the front boasts an appropriately beautiful cover in the form of a painting by John William Waterhouse. A superb disc. --Em Marshall-Luck