CDs, December 2016

CHORAL CDs

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EVENSONG LIVE 2016
The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge / Douglas Tang, Tom Etheridge (organ) / Stephen Cleobury · King’s College KGS0015
Very soon this world-famous choir will start off the Christmas season for millions of listeners and viewers around the world. Here is the evidence that that they are not mothballed from one festive season to the next. This CD, the second of its kind, contains the pick of live webcast performances at services in the splendid chapel during 2014 and 2015. With fifteen pieces, the selection is wide-ranging: Parry, Vaughan Williams, Tye, Walton, Tippett and Judith Weir among others. There is some excellent solo singing, especially from the smooth chocolate voice of tenor Joel Williams in Purcell (Jehova, quam multi) and Gibbons (This is the record of John). For Howells’s Collegium Regale setting of the Te Deum the choir is joined by King’s Voices, the college’s mixed student choir. This is a first class CD – each work shows off the diction, blend and energy along with the effortless ease for which this choir is well known.
Stuart Robinson

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VOX CLARA: Music by Gabriel Jackson
Truro Cathedral Choir / Joel Garthwaite (saxophone) / Luke Bond (organ) / Christopher Gray · Regent Records REGCD479
Move over Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble! The first thing one hears on this CD is a saxophone with unaccompanied choir: one of four pieces with sax. The blend is spellbinding. Gabriel Jackson’s writing is challenging yet lyrical and approachable; the Truro choir seems to relish his lush harmonies too. Five of seven works written especially for the choir are on this CD; That wind blowing and that tide, written for the choristers with organ and sax, is worth a special mention. Jackson’s unaccompanied Missa Triueriensis is substantial and well befits any cathedral liturgy of a Sunday morning; the tenderness of the Agnus Dei is hauntingly beautiful. There has been a long-standing special relationship between the composer and the performers going back to the turn of the century when Jackson’s parents moved to Cornwall. He states that ‘they are a pleasure to listen to, to write for and to go to the pub with.’ Such an understanding is abundantly apparent throughout.

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STABAT MATER: Sacred choral music by Lennox and Michael Berkeley
The Marian Consort / Berkeley Ensemble / David Wordsworth · Delphian DCD34180
Lennox Berkeley’s use of dissonance can be pretty unforgiving at times, nowhere more so than in his Stabat Mater for six voices and chamber ensemble. This 30-minute setting of the ancient Latin hymn depicting Mary’s overwhelming grief at the foot of the Cross is intense and uncompromising; composed at the time of his own mother’s death, it is surely one of Berkeley’s most poignant expressions of his Catholic faith. The work is a testament to Berkeley’s genius as an orchestrator, using strings, woodwind, harp and percussion to realize some striking sonorities. This fine performance by the Marian Consort and Berkeley Ensemble is the first-ever CD recording.
The Consort members under their counter-tenor director Rory McCleery revel in Berkeley’s ingenious linear writing in the unaccompanied Mass for five voices and Judica me. Also recorded here is Touch Light by Michael Berkeley who has certainly inherited his father’s compositional genes yet has his own style. Superbly recorded at the Britten Studio at Snape, I couldn’t help yearning for a soupçon more ecclesiastical ambience.

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ON EAGLES’ WINGS: Sacred choral works by Alexander L’Estrange
Tenebrae / Nigel Short · Signum Classics SIGCD454
Much love has gone into this CD of works by Alexander L’Estrange, born in 1974, and it is an excellent ‘showreel’ of his writing. His wife Joanna Forbes L’Estrange sings on the CD as a member of the excellent Tenebrae directed by Nigel Short. A former chorister at New College, Oxford, L’Estrange is open in the CD notes about the many musical influences on him, Edward Higginbottom, Leighton, Howells and jazz among others. As we listen to this range of commissions of religious and liturgical texts, his unhurried style fits the current penchant for close harmony redolent of Whitacre and Lauridsen. It is all a pleasant listen but perhaps his setting of the hymn ‘My song is love unknown’ is his most effective writing. Panis angelicus is a beautiful two-part setting and a serious consideration for choir directors, as are one or two pieces for the average SATB church choir.
Stuart Robinson

ORGAN CD

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GREAT EUROPEAN ORGANS NO. 99
David Leigh plays the organ of St Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin · Priory PRCD1168
This gem of a recording of the Willis instrument in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin was the penultimate in Priory’s Great European Organs series. Its release was eclipsed somewhat by publicity for a CD from Liverpool Anglican Cathedral which was the grand finale in this long-running catalogue. Across the water in Dublin then, the excellent CD notes relate the instrument’s somewhat battered and incendiary history; even its long pipes once caused HM Customs concern at Holyhead during the years of the troubles. To show off this Romantic instrument, David Leigh, the cathedral’s assistant organist has chosen a programme of music by the 19th-century Irish cathedral organist, Sir Robert Prescott Stewart, Ropartz, Lemare, Jean Giroud and the music editor, Harvey Grace. There is fine playing here with some bright clear registrations, and well recorded too.
Stuart Robinson

DVDs

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PETER KING PLAYS THE KLAIS ORGAN OF BATH ABBEY
2-disc pack of DVD and CD · Regent Records REGDVD003
The DVD bonus items include a short history of the building itself given by the performer, an informative and welcome feature. Peter King’s tour of the Klais organ and his description of the recital programme are instructive and heartfelt.
His programme begins in Paris with the Fantaisie and Fugue in B flat by Boëly and the Fantaisie in E flat by Saint-Saëns, both played with great panache. In Petr Eben’s Moto Ostinato King’s build-up of tension and aggression is both compelling and thrilling. Next comes a rarity, Mendelssohn’s piano Prelude and Fugue in E minor WoO 13 arranged for organ by W.T. Best, a piece that should be heard more often, especially now that transcriptions are back in fashion. The Mendelssohn and the final work on the disc, Julius Reubke’s mighty Sonata: The 94th Psalm, highlight how Peter King’s performances are refined and yet flamboyant and exciting.
Seven pieces from Bach’s Orgelbüchlein give a welcome change from the romantic repertoire and allow a discrete use of Cymbelstern and Glockenspiel stops on the Klais organ. Les Anges by Messiaen and Naïades by Vierne are the remaining pieces in this most attractive recital.

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CAROLS FROM KING’S: 60th Anniversary Edition
The Choir of King’s Cllege, Cambridge / Douglas Tang, Richard Gowers (organ) / Stephen Cleobury · King’s College DVD KGS0013
The 60th-anniversary broadcast of carols from King’s in 2014 is coupled with the remarkable BBC documentary film narrated by Juliet Stevenson about the choir and its preparations for the 2013 broadcast and also the Nine Lessons service in the chapel on Christmas Eve. This insight into the world of the choristers, who never have Christmas Eve or Christmas lunch at home, and the support and emotion of the families brings tears to the eyes. The scenes in the choristers’ boarding house shot on Christmas Eve are touching, but not intrusive.
Stephen Cleobury and the Dean of King’s speak about how carol and reading choices are made. John Rutter, with Bob Chilcott and other former choristers, some of whom remember the first 1954 black and white broadcast directed by Boris Ord, talk about the influence of King’s on their lives and compositions. The late David Willcocks and his composer son Jonathan also contribute; the disc was issued after David Willcocks’s death in 2015 and dedicated to him. BBC archives provide an extract from the first 1954 recording under Boris Ord and extracts from many services from the 60-year period under the directorship of David Willcocks, Philip Ledger and Stephen Cleobury.
Full texts for the 2014 service are in the booklet and a letter from a soldier at the front in 1914. The carol choices are largely traditional, albeit some in modern arrangements. Of the older arrangements, it is remarkable how fresh David Willcocks’s Sussex Carol seems. This DVD is notable for the technical and directorial professionalism expected from the BBC: 134 minutes of magic.
John Henderson

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PRIORY HIGH DEFINITION ORGAN DVDS All are 3-disc packs of Blu-ray, DVD and CD
The Grand Organ of LIVERPOOL METROPOLITAN CATHEDRAL
Richard Lea · Priory PRDVD 10
The Grand Organ of NORWICH CATHEDRAL
David Dunnett · Priory PRDVD 11
The Grand Organ of DURHAM CATHEDRAL
James Lancelot · Priory PRDVD 12
The Grand Organ of COVENTRY CATHEDRAL
Kerry Beaumont · Priory PRDVD 13
The Grand Organ of GLOUCESTER CATHEDRAL
Jonathan Hope · Priory PRDVD 14
What a feast! Although some of these sets are a few years old, these are the issues which feature an HD Blu-ray disc as well as an ‘ordinary’ all-regions DVD and a CD of the organ recital.
Five recitalists of the highest calibre perform music they love, sometimes in their own arrangements, on the instruments they know backwards. In most cases the music includes something related to the local area, either historically or musically. This results in varied and eclectic programming and, though veering towards the popular, there is something new or unusual on every disc to widen our horizons. A bonus feature on each set is a video of one item over which, using a split screen, the performer explains his registration and manual changes.
Sixty tracks are too many to list but among tracks of the Water Music, Pomp and Circumstance, Moonlight Sonata and their ilk are unusual items of interest or substance. Richard Lea mixes Liverpool (George Martin and Paul McCartney) with Liszt’s Fantasia on ‘Ad nos’. Liverpool Metropolitan is not the easiest building in which to record but this recording is not quite up to Priory’s usual high standard, with a lack of clarity in some pieces and the organ sounding rather distant. The narrated piece is Lea’s arrangement of George Martin’s Theme One composed for the opening of BBC Radio 1. The oft-mentioned Dr A.H. Claire (arranger and programme note writer) is an anagram of Richard Lea!
David Dunnett includes Heathcote Statham’s Rhapsody on a Ground, Iain Farrington’s Live Wire and a narration of Elgar’s Angel’s Farewell. James Lancelot offers Rheinberger’s excellent Seventh Sonata, a welcome recording of Naji Hakim’s Mariales and a bonus narration of Franck’s Pièce héroïque. He also plays the Durham miner’s hymn, accompanied by images of the mining years, and demonstrates his house organ.
Kerry Beaumont delivers an exciting performance of Holst’s ‘Mars’ from The Planets, Walford Davies’s RAF March Past and a narration of Pierre Cholley’s jazz dance Rumba sur les Grands Jeux. Among the Coventry ‘bonuses’ are performances on the two cathedral chamber organs, though no specifications are given. Jonathan Hope, the youngest of the performers, includes his own arrangement of Dukas’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Liszt’s St Francis walking on the waters with a narration of the ‘Final’ from one of Pierre Cochereau’s improvised symphonies – all seeming effortless.
Most of the recitals are around 78 minutes, the available content of a CD. The DVD ‘bonus’ features vary from 66 (Gloucester) to 90 minutes (Durham). In addition to the narrated item, each bonus menu includes a tour of the organ registers and a description by the organist of his programme choices (though in some cases this is little more than reading out the notes from the booklet). Strangely the bonus features are not mentioned in any of the booklets or detailed in any Priory advertising.
The visual content of these DVDs is stunning and the film-maker and editor Richard Knight is to be congratulated. Durham appears in Mediterranean-style sunshine, beautiful beyond belief – and this is also true of the other sets. Most of the visuals feature the organist playing or show architectural details of his cathedral, but sometimes Knight takes you elsewhere, such as to Durham University Oriental Museum to accompany Alain’s Agni Yavishta. The programming and visuals certainly should certainly appeal to the general public and, as an ambassador for organ music and organists, Priory have done a good job. The discs are also educational for organists, opening up areas of unusual repertoire and with the bonus educational tracks suggesting how to register pieces.
Comparing the visual qualities of the HD Blu-ray discs with the ordinary DVDs, the colours seem slightly more vivid in Blu-ray although not making a great difference. I could not find anyone with a 6-speaker Home Cinema and the magnificence of these recordings in that format is a thrill yet to come. The CDs are 2-channel stereo only; both DVDs are recorded in 5.1 surround sound and 2-channel stereo, either of which can be set up from the home menu. Navigation is easy using a remote control but if playing the DVD on a computer, mouse navigation is not supported – the arrow keys on the keyboard are required.
Without reservation I can give a 3-star rating to all of these sets, but I think James Lancelot at Durham deserves an added star.
John Henderson