EASTER DAY AT HEREFORD
Choir of Hereford Cathedral / Peter Dyke (organ) / Geraint Bowen · Regent REGCD 478
Hereford’s first recording for three years was made last year, three weeks after Easter, and shows what might have been sung on Easter Day at matins, Eucharist and evensong with some of the biggest works in the repertoire: Howells’s St Paul’s Service (his largest setting) in the evening, Langlais’s Messe solennelle and at matins Stanford in C (Te Deum and Jubilate). Morning and evening introits and anthems are the ‘standard’ Charles Wood arrangement of This joyful Eastertide, Stanford’s Ye choirs of new Jerusalem and S.S. Wesley’s Blessed be the God and Father, written during Wesley’s brief time as organist at Hereford for the infamous occasion when only trebles and a single bass were available. At the Eucharist it is good to have Byrd’s In resurrectione tua and Taverner’s first Dum transisset Sabbatum. Performances are excellent – well worth waiting the three years for singing with this level of accomplishment, including Harry Darwall-Smith’s treble solos. Phrases are shaped beautifully, diction is excellent, and there is a bright, vibrant sound. The Willis organ sounds splendid in the Stanford, Wesley and Howells.
STANFORD – CHORAL MUSIC
Winchester College Chapel Choir / Jamal Sutton (organ) / Malcolm Archer · Convivium Records CR027
The Te Deum from the Service in C is also found on this all-Stanford recording for which Winchester College Chapel Choir went to Merton College and its new Dobson organ. The singing is more robust than at Hereford – indeed the contrast of the organs as well as different acoustic and voices is striking. That Service and the three Latin motets are well known and much recorded; it is likely to be for the lesser-known items that purchasers will look to this CD, including the dramatic For lo, I raise up composed, as Jeremy Dibble points out, as war broke out in 1914. Professor Dibble writes about all the music and perhaps was responsible for the unusual ordering of the material with service movements interspersed with motets, anthems, hymn and psalm – a mixing of material that perhaps casts fresh light on each piece. There is an introduction to the CD at www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XU86N2OEqM
‘TAKE THE PSALM’
Choir of Southwell Minster / Simon Hogan (organ) / Paul Hale · Priory PRCD 1157
This is an interesting ‘concept album’ with psalms sung straight to Anglican chant, anthems that use psalm texts and organ pieces inspired by the psalter. The disc begins and ends with Elgar: Give unto the Lord (Psalm 29) and Great is the Lord (Psalm 48). Chanted psalms include two set to chants by Robert Ashfield and one by Robert Liddle, both formerly Rector Chori at the Minster.
The big piece at the centre of the disc is S.S. Wesley’s Ascribe unto the Lord (Psalm 29). Other choral music is by Eric Thiman (O that men would praise the Lord – Psalm 107, first recording), Sidney Campbell, John Joubert and Herbert Irons. Irons was Rector Chori from 1857 to 1872 and composer of Show thy servant the light of thy countenance (Psalm 31), recently discovered in the Minster library and receiving its first recording. Of particular note is the organ playing of Simon Hogan in three solo pieces: Howells’s Psalm Prelude set 2 no. 3, Andrew Fletcher’s Psalm Prelude and Whitlock’s Sortie based on Psalm 68, verse 5: ‘The singers go before, the minstrels follow after: in the midst are the damsels playing the timbrels.’ The accompanying booklet includes interesting notes about the music by Peter Nicholson and Paul Hale but no texts of the anthems nor specification of the organ.
Sistine Chapel Choir / Massimo Palombella · Deutsche Grammophon 479 5300
This disc is a marketing dream: the first recording ever made in the Sistine Chapel by the world’s oldest choir – the first recording to capture the acoustic of the Sistine Chapel with music sung by the Pope’s own choir. However you word it, it is historic. The repertoire includes music written for the choir by Palestrina, Anerio, Lassus and Victoria as well as Gregorian chant. The choir may well, as it is claimed, have improved greatly since Palombella was appointed five years ago, and intonation sounds good as far as one can tell. Alas, despite the description of how Deutsche Grammophon constructed its own studio within the chapel, the acoustic as heard here is muddy, blurring the words and indeed notes. It is good to have a version of Allegri’s Miserere without the later abbellimenti, performed in the room for which it was written – but if only one could hear the more distant singers more clearly! Those who know the repertoire (Palestrina Tu es Petrus and Adoramus te, Christe, Victoria Popule meus, Lassus Magnificat VIII toni, among the 16 tracks) can use their imagination to enhance what is heard. Others will simply take pleasure in being able to hear anything recorded with that choir in that venue. But it is a pity that a clearer recording could not have been made without sacrificing the uniquely numinous acoustic.
THE BACH PROJECT – VOLUME 1
Sonata in E flat BWV 525, Prelude and Fugue in A minor BWV 543, Toccata, Adagio and Fugue BWV 564, Passacaglia in C minor BWV 582, An Wasserflüssen Babylon BWV 653, Partita BWV 768 · Todd Fickley plays the Hauptwerk Schnitger (1721) St Michaëlskerk, Zwolle · MSR Music MS 1561
THE BACH PROJECT – VOLUME 2
Sonata in C minor BWV 526, Toccata and Fugue in F major BWV 540, Prelude and Fugue in C major BWV 545, Concerto in A minor BWV 593, Six ‘Schübler’ Chorale Preludes, Chorale Preludes BWV 657, 658 and 720 · Todd Fickley plays the Hauptwerk Marcussen (1973) Laurenskerk, Rotterdam · MSR Music MS 1562
It had to happen soon – a complete Bach series on Hauptwerk computer organs, which recreate as closely as possible every detail of a specified acoustic instrument. Many organists already have firm views for or against the Hauptwerk principle. For some, using Hauptwerk instruments for a recording is fine as the recording is itself an electronic reproduction of what has been recorded, just like the Hauptwerk instrument. For others, a recording of a Hauptwerk ‘reproduction’ is twice removed from the original instrument. That said, assuming that one allows these recordings at all, it must be admitted that Todd Fickley (based in Washington, D.C.) is a fine player of Bach. Tempos are mostly lively, phrasing is crisp, rhythm is taut at times but flexible when appropriate, and contrapuntal lines are clearly articulated. The technology may be new, but the performances are historically informed. This is an impressive start to an intended complete Bach series with each CD using a different Hauptwerk-realized organ.
WIDOR – MASTER OF THE ORGAN SYMPHONY
Gerard Brooks (organ and presenter) with John Near, Daniel Roth (organ) and Anne-Isabelle de Parcevaux · DVD/CD digipack (2 DVDs, 2CDs, 88 page booklet) · Fugue State Films FSFDVD010
At last the much anticipated Widor DVD set from Fugue State Films has arrived. Is it everything we had hoped for? Well yes and no, though it is certainly highly recommended viewing. The two DVDs contain both thrilling playing from Gerard Brooks and Daniel Roth and an excellent and informative commentary both from these two and from American Widor scholar John Near; though the lip-syncing is poor in the John Near interviews and very distracting. The placing of the symphonies in the context of Widor’s life, career and other music will also be interesting and new to many. Apology is made by the producers for the fact that night recording in St Sulpice was not possible and so recordings had to be made live (in one take) at services with slight extraneous noise. No need to apologize, for live recordings can, as in this case, be better than spliced-together Hollywood-style trickery.
The only two symphonies presented complete are the fifth and sixth. There are three movements from No. 3, two from No. 7 and single movements only from Nos. 1, 2, 4 and the Gothique. No complete movements from No. 8 or the Symphonie Romane are included and even the well-known Andante sostenuto from the Gothique is not a new recording, but a re-issue from the Fugue State Films’ Cavaillé-Coll DVDs. However this is a survey of Widor and his symphonies rather than a ‘complete’ set which would occupy more discs than even the generous five hours’ worth of viewing here. Unfortunately these discs arrived a week before Christmas, which meant that quite a few important tasks failed to be completed by the reviewer, who had not factored in all the hours necessary for this compulsive viewing.