THE CHORAL MUSIC OF COLIN MAWBY
Choir of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral / Richard Lea, James Luxton (organ) / Christopher McElroy· Priory PRCD1163
The city of Liverpool is blessed with two cavernous holy spaces with acoustics to match. Neither of the two cathedrals can be said to be intimate yet both speak of the majesty of God in very different ways. The resonant acoustic of the Metropolitan Cathedral is just as much a feature of this exciting CD as the splendid music forces assembled for the compilation of works by Colin Mawby, who celebrated his 80th birthday last year (2016). Many of us will know his accessible singable style. In the wake of Vatican II in the 1960s he has resisted any pressure to dumb down his writing. While this collection consists of works with simpler writing for congregational use, it is complemented by more complex pieces for choir – his finely poised Reproaches is a case in point. Mawby’s relationship with the cathedral goes back to 1967 so he does know the building and the vast canvas it offers. Of two works performed by the choir with brass ensemble the ‘Gloria’ from the Liverpool Mass comes at the start of the CD; a health warning here – its arresting beginning with percussion can be startling! There is some singing of a number of familiar Marian texts from the choir made up of 19 boys, 33 girls and 14 men. The organ is desperately in need of overhaul, but between them James Luxton and Richard Lea do a fine job of making it sound respectable. Mawby can do grand and intimate and the Met minstrels under Christopher McElroy give a good reading of his work.
SING WE OF THAT MOTHER BLEST
Girls’ choir and lay clerks of Southwell Minster / Edward Turner (organ) / Simon Hogan · Regent REGCD487
I must confess I had to look up the location of Southwell and its distinctive Norman/Romanesque Minster. I had heard of it (near Nottingham) of course thanks to Paul Hale’s sterling service as Rector Chori since 1989 until his retirement last year; this is a musical tradition that is getting more recognition. This CD recorded in February last year features the girls’ choir – formed in 2005 – and lay clerks, directed by the Assistant Director of Music, Simon Hogan. It’s a great listen with a wide range of appropriately Marian works from the traditional, such as Dyson’s joyous Magnificat in D and Grieg’s serene Ave maris stella, to James MacMillan’s exhilarating, not to say tricky, Tota pulchra es Maria, to organ pieces by Naji Hakim ably played by the organ scholar Edward Turner. There’s much I could pick out but special mention must be made of Now in holy celebration sung to the plainsong Urbs beata, and Simon Johnson’s setting of the Magnificat on plainsong tones written for upper voices. The two-part texture is finely wrought and beautifully sung. Similarly the Benedictus solo from Haydn’s Little Organ Mass, sung here by all the girls, is not without its awkward corners and leaps; the intricacies of the ornamentation are confidently executed. Here is a clean pure girls’ sound on this their second recording – there’s no over-coloured vibrato. The men do their bit too: the traditional There is no rose is neatly phrased and blended. Excellent recordings such as this can only help to put Southwell Minster on the map.
MORE ARCHIVE RECORDINGS 1960–76
Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford / Bernard Rose · OxRecs Digital OXCD130
These are mostly recordings taken from BBC broadcasts of choral evensongs in the 1960s, to which are added extracts from a concert given in Amsterdam in 1976, and an unusual performance of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis from Byrd’s Great Service with the choirs of Magdalen and New Colleges combined. The Dutch broadcast is of a notably higher recording quality than that of the earlier BBC broadcasts, but the ‘noise’ and occasional live performance glitches are easy to ignore when the performances are as good as they are here. Bernard Rose conducts his own Responses in a 1969 broadcast that also included Geoffrey Bush’s Collegium Magdalenae Oxoniense evening service and John McCabe’s Great Lord of Lords – certainly a contemporary programme for its time. Rose was a fine choir trainer, and the sound of the boys was particularly impressive, heard to particular effect in the Amsterdam concert in Palestrina’s Exultate Deo and Purcell’s O Lord, hear my prayer. The disc concludes with an affecting performance of Stanford’s The Blue Bird. Altogether a valuable and enjoyable testament to the quality of that strand of the English choral tradition at the time.
BACH AND THE STILE ANTICO
St Salvator’s Chapel Choir / Ars Eloquentiae / Fitzwilliam String Quartet / Tom Wilkinson · SanctiAndree SAND0003
This is a happy combination of the outstanding chamber choir of St Andrews University, the period instrumental group Ars Eloquentiae and the Fitzwilliam String Quartet, in a CD produced under the University of St Andrews’ own label. The selection of pieces is all ‘about’ the Credo, the ‘Symbolum Nicenum’, from Bach’s B minor Mass, performed here complete in a lively performance using small forces that allows the counterpoint to be clearly heard. Before that there are pieces that show the influence on Bach of the stile antico – that style of counterpoint associated above all with Palestrina, two movements of whose Missa sine nomine are sung here. There are stile antico Credos by Bassani and Caldara as arranged by Bach, perhaps in preparation for his B minor Credo, plus organ works of Bach in the same ‘old style’ played by Tom Wilkinson on the Ahrend organ in the Reid Concert Hall, an instrument that is as much a credit to this disc as the performers. The conception of this highly unusual disc is excellent and makes one hear the great B minor Credo as if with new ears.
SIR CHARLES VILLIERS STANFORD: THE COMPLETE ORGAN WORKS VOL. 4
Daniel Cook plays the organ of Westminster Abbey· Priory PRCD1161
THE COMPLETE ORGAN WORKS OF THOMAS TERTIUS NOBLE VOL. 3
John Scott Whiteley plays the organ of York Minster · Priory PRCD1152
If there are two clichés beloved of journalists that make me groan – apropos of musically orientated stories – they are ‘hitting the right notes’ and ‘pulling out all the stops’. But true they are as far as these two recordings are concerned: both Daniel Cook and John Scott Whiteley play the notes in the right order and they certainly manage to make their instruments rock. Conversely both performers explore some of the gentler tone colours too with delicate and sensitive phrasing. If you are an aficionado of Noble’s and/or Stanford’s music, these CD recordings are a must.
Daniel Cook is now on volume 4 of Stanford’s works. This CD includes Three Idylls Op. 194, Prelude and Fugue in E minor, and the Sonata No. 5 based on Stanford’s own hymn tune Engelberg sung to the hymn ‘For all the Saints’. Stanford’s Four Intermezzi and the Installation March complete the 74 minutes, the latter including blatant references to the Westminster Chimes – just across Parliament Square of course. The comprehensive and detailed CD notes are from none other than Jeremy Dibble.
Meanwhile, two hundred miles to the north, John Scott Whiteley’s (JSW) name is firmly embedded in York Minster’s lineage of long-serving organists; he was the assistant there from the mid-1970s until 2010 and is now organist emeritus. There’s been considerable scholarship on JSW’s part; Volume 3 here represents the culmination of a project to research, edit and perform the music of one of his musical ancestors. T. Tertius Noble served at Ely, York and St Thomas, Fifth Avenue, New York and this volume contains a selection of works from his early Theme and Variations in D flat and Solemn March in E flat minor to one his final pieces – Prelude on Eventide. Of course JSW knows every nook and cranny of the Minster instrument and that is evident in this recording: there are some wonderful palettes of tone-colour here. There are thorough CD notes too.
As for the music, Stanford’s and Noble’s writings are in the same league. And – at risk of sparking correspondence – are the Minster reeds a little more ‘fiery’ than those in the Abbey? You can gladden Priory’s heart by buying both and listening for yourself.
GREAT EUROPEAN ORGANS NO. 100
David Poulter plays the Henry Willis III organ of Liverpool Anglican Cathedral · Priory PRCD1158
This should come to be seen as an historic CD – the 100th and final CD in Priory’s splendid series that started in 1986 in King’s College, Cambridge. David Poulter’s programme makes the most of the sonorous acoustic and the huge ‘symphonic’ instrument, starting with Elgar’s Sonata in G and concluding with Walton’s Crown Imperial, Henry V Suite and Orb and Sceptre. Bridge, Whitlock, Howells and Noel Rawsthorne come between them. The performance of the Elgar in particular is stunning – the music, the player and the instrument seem made for each other: another reason why this CD should be regarded as a ‘classic’.
Tim Boniface has written a jazz suite, The Eight Words, that is a meditation on the eight sayings of Jesus as recorded in John’s Passion narrative. The CD includes a theological reflection on each movement. Details and samples are at www.timboniface.co.uk/recordings – and are worth exploring for a Passiontide meditation with a difference.