Choral Music, December 2015

HYMN-ANTHEMS

GOD OF OUR FATHERS, WHOSE ALMIGHTY HAND [E]
Mack Wilberg
SATB (with divisi) and keyboard
Oxford 978-0-19-338637-2 £2.20
LOVE DIVINE, ALL LOVES EXCELLING [E/M]
David Houlder
SATB and organ
Banks Music Publications ECS576 £1.75
CHRIST WHOSE GLORY FILLS THE SKIES [E/M]
David Halls
SATB and organ
Paraclete Press SKU1519 $1.70
BLEST ARE THE PURE IN HEART [E]
David Barton
SATB and organ
Paraclete Press SKU1515 $1.70
THE KING OF LOVE [E]
David Barton
SATB and piano
Paraclete Press SKU153 $2.20
GOD BE WITH YOU TILL WE MEET AGAIN [E]
Ian Brentnall
SATB and organ
Banks Music Publications ECS579 £1.75
Mack Wilberg’s arrangement of George Warren’s 19th-century American hymn for patriotic occasions, God of our Fathers, is marked ‘with conviction, growing from verse to verse’, starting with tenors and basses in unison, then other verses in different keys, and ending with full eight-part choir. Written for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, this is ‘heart on your sleeve’ music with obligatory triplets and trumpet fanfares in the accompaniment.
In each of the other anthems, the composer has written his own melody for the first verse of the hymn, and then varied the theme in subsequent verses. The most interesting are by David Houlder (Love divine, all loves excelling) and David Halls (Christ whose glory fills the skies). Using the standard compositional pattern for a three-verse hymn-anthem (verse one unison, verse two harmony and verse three unison and descant), both composers demonstrate creativity in their settings. These two for me are the pick of the bunch: well written and attractive.
David Barton’s settings are very easy and written in a lighter style. Blest are the pure in heart employs a pretty melody but the theme for The King of Love lacks invention. Ian Brentnall’s God be with you till we meet again is very straightforward within a limited vocal range. As an alternative to teaching your choir a ‘hymn-anthem’ such as these, you might try performing a hymn really beautifully in its traditional hymn book setting.
Gordon Appleton

SATB ANTHEMS

SONG OF CREATION [M/D]
Howard Helvey
SATB 
Oxford 978-0-19-340723-7 £1.60
PRAISE THE LORD [M/D]
David Halls
SATB
Paraclete Press SKU1506 $2.20
BEHOLD, HOW GOOD AND JOYFUL [E/M]
Robert Lehman
SATB 
Paraclete Press SKU1550 $1.70
Of these three unaccompanied anthems, for effective interpretation those by Howard Helvey and David Halls need choirs with excellent intonation and sure rhythmic precision. Song of Creation (text from the US Book of Common Prayer 1979) is the more straightforward of the two, written almost entirely in four parts and with a firm tonal centre. It is marked ‘Allegro con moto’ and time signatures change frequently. There is lots of interest within these 65 bars and nimble choirs will enjoy the challenge.
In similar style, marked ‘Vivace e energico’ but needing more rehearsal time, is Praise the Lord (with text from Psalm 113). For much of the piece, the tenors and basses provide an ostinato with their insistent rhythm. There are huge dynamic variations; sopranos and altos each divide. As well as a very secure rhythmic foundation, choirs need a sure sense of pitch. Commissioned for a secular chamber choir, this a cappella anthem will provide an exuberant end to a concert.
Firmly rooted in E flat major is Robert Lehman’s gentle and chordal setting of the text ‘Behold, how good and joyful a thing it is, brethren, to dwell together in unity.’ This is straightforward and effective.
Gordon Appleton

BELOVED, LET US LOVE ONE ANOTHER [M]
Ian Brentnall
SATB and organ
Banks Music ECS577 £1.75
HYMNS OF GLORY [M]
Bradley Ellingboe
SATB and organ
Oxford 978-0-19-338707-2 £2.20
GIVE ME MY SCALLOP-SHELL OF QUIET [M]
Andrew Millington
SATB and organ
Encore Publications £2.50
These three anthems all have interesting texts. Ian Brentnall’s Beloved, let us love one another was written for a wedding and the biblical texts chosen are most appropriate, although also suitable for general use. This is a useful anthem for parish choirs looking for something appropriate to sing at weddings.
The anthem Hymns of Glory was commissioned to commemorate a particular music ministry. The text by Thomas Troeger I found more interesting than its musical setting: ‘May the God whose music sounded as you led our church and choir, / Till we knew we were surrounded by the Spirit’s word and fire, / Keep singing in your heart as a witness to Christ’s story / And in other souls impart hymns of glory, glory, glory.’
Andrew Millington, who recently retired as Director of Music at Exeter Cathedral, has set a text by Sir Walter Raleigh suitable for the theme of pilgrimage. This beautiful text is given a masterful setting which was composed for the visit of Her Majesty the Queen to Exeter on her Golden Jubilee tour in 2002. Give me my scallop-shell of quiet is an attractive piece that should enhance many choirs’ repertoires.
Gordon Appleton

LIGHT LOOKED DOWN [M]
Philip Moore
SATB and organ
Paraclete Press PPM01538 $3.10
FOR HE SHALL GIVE HIS ANGELS CHARGE OVER THEE [M]
Felix Mendelssohn
Patrick Russill
SSAATTBB
Church Music Society CMSR136 £2.60
HOLY IS THE TRUE LIGHT [D]
Gabriel Jackson
SATB with divisi
Oxford NH149 £1.85
TRULY I TELL YOU [M]
Judith Weir
SATB with divisi, and organ
Chester CH83743
Almost too late to cover for this Christmas, choirs still able to programme it will find that Philip Moore’s extended anthem, Light looked down, has much to recommend in it. The music is atmospheric and with an intriguing juxtaposition of E flat major and E minor. The arpeggio-based vocal lines are highly singable and the organ part colourful. The text is the poem attributed to Laurence Housman starting ‘Light looked down and beheld Darkness’ that ends ‘And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’, which in this anthem leads into the remainder of John 1.14. It is not too difficult and would make a considerable impact at a Christmas service.
We may all know Mendelssohn’s ever-popular chorus from Elijah, but not that ‘For he shall give his angels charge over thee’ derives from an eight-part unaccompanied motet that the composer wrote two years before Elijah. Patrick Russill has fitted Bartholomew’s English text to Mendelssohn’s original music, and added some editorial markings and corrections to make an effective English-language anthem.
G.H. Palmer’s text, Holy is the true light, is familiar in the setting by William Harris. Like Harris, Gabriel Jackson starts quietly and gently in four parts, but the music increases in texture (with rich clusters), volume, rhythmic drive and complexity to reach a thrilling climax on ‘rejoice with gladness’ – music which seems then to carry on ‘evermore’, undimmed but gradually receding into the distance until the opening reappears transformed as an ‘alleluia’. It is a profound and satisfying piece.
Truly I tell you is a four-minute, useful church anthem that is not too difficult, from the current Master of the Queen’s Music. Verses from Psalms 8 and 34 frame Mark 10.15 ‘Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ Much of the four-part writing doubles sopranos with tenors and altos with basses, making it easier to learn, but there is never a sense of writing to make it easy – the music feels naturally conceived that way. A good organist will make the playful organ part sparkle. Highly recommended.
James L. Montgomery

JOHN GOSS

JOHN GOSS: COMPLETE ANTHEMS
ed. Iain Quinn
A-R Editions, Inc: 493pp. P/B 978-0-89579-817-6 $480.00
A paperback costing just over £300 is not perhaps something that many readers of Sunday by Sunday will consider, but read on!
Firstly one should say that this is an important project, the assembly of all John Goss’s anthems that are currently known to have survived – both the 38 substantial works and the nine single-page anthems that he contributed to hymn books and anthem anthologies. Secondly, while this is not itself a performing edition (almost twice the weight of the New Church Anthem Book, let alone the price!), modern technology allows copies of single anthems to be provided to choirs as digital downloads or as printed copies at very reasonable rates. For example, a printed copy of Goss’s The Wilderness at 24 pages costs only $3.00. Of course there is postage which may be considerable for some readers, but the most important achievement is that all these anthems are now available once again.
The book itself is a high quality production with the obligatory short biography of the composer, an assessment of his music, specifications of some organs familiar to Goss and a few pages of photographs of early printings and autograph scores.
John Henderson

JAMES WHITBOURN

JAMES WHITBOURN: THE CHORAL COLLECTION [mostly M or D]
15 anthems for SATB (with divisi) with and without organ
Chester Music CH83578 £9.95
The name of James Whitbourn may not yet be familiar to most readers of Sunday by Sunday, but you will almost certainly have heard his compositions. The 2001 TV series Son of God had 90 minutes of his music and since then Whitbourn has produced music for many programmes for the BBC’s Religion and Ethics Department, not to mention the introduction to all the Royal Opera House cinema screenings. One piece in this choral collection, Eternal rest, derives from music for the broadcast of the funeral of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
Whitbourn’s publishers have decided that it is time to honour the composer with an anthology, and with good reason. Although all the music here was written within just 15 years, there is a great variety of texts and musical approaches to them. South African prayers (one by Desmond Tutu) jostle with pieces for King’s College, Cambridge. Two carols have words by Robert Tear, and there is also a setting of Newman’s ‘O Lord, support us all the day long’. If one misses a feeling of a single, well-defined and recognizable musical personality, that stems in part from Whitbourn’s immersion in the words and respect for their own character. There are African features in the African settings, carol melodies in A Christmas Gloria, a faithfulness to the spirit of Praetorius in an elaboration of ‘A great and mighty wonder’ and so on. The words inspire the music, which is as it should be with music for the church. A particularly effective example is the way the inclusion of the Easter verse in Were you there? (‘… when he rose up from the grave’) transforms the music of the spiritual. This is certainly a volume that should be on the shelves of choir directors interested in broadening their horizons.
Stephen Patterson