A YEAR AT MANCHESTER
Choir of Manchester Cathedral / Jeffrey Makinson (organ, piano) / Murray McLachlan (piano) / Christopher Stokes · Regent REGCD443
This survey of the liturgical year contains some excellent music. Mendelssohn’s I waited for the Lord makes a melodious start to the Advent season and showcases the talents of Lucy Ormrod and George Herbert (trebles), reflecting how the top line at Manchester is composed of girls and boys. Simon Preston’s cheeky setting of I saw three ships (Christmas) is immediately followed by Crotch’s impeccably elegant Lo! star-led chiefs (Epiphany), making a striking juxtaposition. The Renaissance motets are particularly enjoyable: In ieiunio et fletu (men’s voices – Lent), John IV of Portugal’s spine-tingling Crux fidelis (Good Friday) and Byrd’s Haec dies (Easter Day) in which the choir makes impressively short work of the rhythmic difficulties.
The organ sounds red-blooded in Ralph Vaughan Williams’s O clap your hands (Ascension). Judith Bingham’s Corpus Christi Carol has a quirkiness that fits the words perfectly; if you have not yet come across this piece it is warmly recommended. The fair chivalry by Robert Ashfield (All Saints – another unusual text) is a splendid pot-boiler of an anthem! Mathias’s Festival Te Deum (Christ the King) is classic Mathias. The programme includes home-grown pieces:The Spirit of the Lord (Advent) by sub-organist Jeffrey Makinson and Breathe on me breath of God (Lent) and How awesome is this place (Dedication) by Christopher Stokes. An attractive disc.
THE MARIAN COLLECTION
Choir of Merton College, Oxford / Charles Warren (organ) / Peter Phillips & Benjamin Nicholas · Delphian DCD34144
The excellence of the choice of pieces is matched by the excellence of the performances. The featured composers are Judith Weir, Palestrina, Tavener, Kerry Andrew (b.1978), John Nesbett (fl.1475–88), Byrd, Stravinsky, Dobrinka Tabkaova (b.1980), Gabriel Jackson, Parsons, Matthew Martin (b.1976) and Bruckner. The huge range of styles is a wonderful testament to the choir’s flexibility, but also demonstrates the enduring inspiration that composers find in such texts as Ave Regina caelorum, Alma Redemptoris mater, Salve regina, Magnificat and Ave Maria. Whether you prefer the contemporary pieces or those of earlier ages is a matter of personal taste, but for me highlights include Kerry Andrew’s multi-textured Salve Regina, Nesbett’s intricate and sunrise-fresh Magnificat, Gabriel Jackson’s lyrical I say that we are wound with mercy and Parsons’ Ave Maria – surely one of the finest settings of these words ever composed.
THE CHURCH MUSIC OF SAMUEL SEBASTIAN WESLEY
The Choir of St Peter’s College, Oxford / Mary Ann Wootton & Daniel Pugh-Bevan (organ) / Roger Allen · OxRecs Digital OXCD129
This disc does not contain the complete church music of S.S. Wesley, but presents an excellent survey of much of the best: O give thanks unto the Lord, Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, Blessed be the God and Father, The Wilderness,Wash me throughly and Praise the Lord, O my soul along with the Magnificat & Nunc dimittis in E. The inclusion of the The Wilderness is as welcome as it is brave. The organ scholars execute the organ parts with aplomb in the rather unforgiving acoustic of the college chapel, but Mary Ann Wootton is to be particularly commended for her performance of The Wilderness – one of the trickiest accompaniments in the repertoire.
Wesley’s anthems include much writing for solos and small ensembles, and the students perform these well. Wash me throughly receives a particularly fine rendition by the full choir: expressive yet controlled. A whole disc of S.S. Wesley makes one aware of his strengths and weaknesses, but, on balance, this CD reminds us that his contribution to church music is immense and there is much that is subtle, beautiful and moving.
GREEN AND PLEASANT LAND
Kevin Bowyer plays the organ of Woburn parish church · Priory PRCD 1131
After his recent Organ Party CDs recorded in Lancaster and Glasgow, Kevin Bowyer has headed south for this recital of pre-First World War music on the 1904 Norman and Beard organ in Woburn parish church. His first acquaintance with it was to give a recital. ‘Rarely have I been more bowled over by an organ at first hearing than I was that day.’ Describing it as an undiscovered gem, Bowyer felt it needed to be preserved on disc – hence this recording.
What has resulted is a selection of pieces – sadly many of them forgotten – from a set of volumes of The Organ Loft, published monthly between 1900 and 1915. Bowyer blows the dust off works from organists such as Frank Heddon Bond, Oliver Arthur King and Owen Henry Powell. There is a wide mixture of rousing and charming pieces, sensitively played with some fascinating sound colours. The Woburn organ has considerable versatility and a detailed programme note explains some of the effective stop combinations. Kevin Bowyer has revived a number of gems!
ELGAR FROM SALISBURY
John Challenger plays organ transcriptions on Salisbury Cathedral organ · Regent REGCD463
Currently assistant at Salisbury Cathedral, John Challenger began his career as a chorister at Hereford Cathedral in Three Choirs’ and Elgar territory. John has chosen to return to these roots for this CD of organ transcriptions of orchestral works, including a couple of his own. Transcriptions by other organists include Herbert Brewer’s realization of the Coronation March and by contrast the Larghetto from Serenade for Strings by Caleb Henry Trevor. Elgar’s music combines pomp and grandeur with tenderness and kindly gentility: transferring those varied elements from orchestra to organ could be a risky business given that Elgar is so well-known for the sound of his orchestral writing. The final Prelude and ‘Angel’s Farewell’ from Gerontius is a masterpiece of many tonal colours and varied dynamics – hardly a bar goes by without a piston change! With the weight and majesty of the cathedral’s 1877 Willis organ at his fingertips, John has successfully transferred the breadth of Elgar’s work.
IN PRAISE OF ST COLUMBA: The sound world of the Celtic Church
Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, Barnaby Brown (triplepipe & lyre), Geoffrey Webber · Delphian DCD34137
This foray back to the sound-worlds of the sixth-century Irish saint, Columba, is a far cry from the choir’s regular duty in its college chapel. From the blast of a triplepipe at the beginning of track one we are transported into a sequence of different sonorities – plenty of plainchant but with some fine instruments added, namely triplepipe, lyre, Irish horn and bodhrán. The programme notes describe how the various so-called ‘sound-worlds’ are imagined, including seventh-century hymns from Iona, and tenth-century chants from Irish foundations in Switzerland. An example is Carne solutus pater Columba from the Office of Columba, combining Psalm 100 chanted to a plainchant tone by female voices singing a parallel fourth apart – with a triplepipe drone underneath. No music survives from the Celtic church, so evidence for the use of instruments has been drawn from stone carvings, manuscript illustrations and stories in prose. We are told that Barnaby Brown (described as a Highland piper) and the Gonville & Caius choir have collaborated on this project since 2004. This is fascinating to listen to, and the CD notes are detailed and thorough.