Choral Music, June 2017


Will Todd
SATB and piano
Boosey & Hawkes M060-13294-0
This short evening anthem has words as well as music written by Will Todd. The harmony is lush and the melodies are lyrical. Written with a light touch, it would be possible to accompany this on organ, but it is much more suited to the piano, as indicated by the composer. Although the front cover indicates ‘Max Divisi SSAATBB’ there is very little divisi and, such as there is, only in the last few bars.

David Bednall
Unison or SATB and organ
Oxford 978-0-19-351316-7
I can imagine the sound of this short introit, written for a school choir, filling a chapel with perhaps the whole school singing in unison, enriched by an SATB choir. With a strong organ part, it is a rousing but very short introit for a thanksgiving service. Perhaps Mr Bednall could consider it the start of a much longer anthem using Psalm 95?
Gordon Appleton

David Bednall
Oxford NH208
Only a brave composer publishes a setting of these words, so memorably set by Herbert Howells, but David Bednall succeeds by being true to himself and not influenced by Howells’s distinctive harmonic language. The words are set with a heightened emotion, especially at the repeated ‘yea, even for the living God’ that leads into a slowly and dramatically proclaimed ‘When, when shall I come to appear’. This becomes quieter and more inward for ‘before the presence, the presence, the presence of …’ and, on the final word ‘God’, D minor changes to a pianissimo D major. It is a most effective setting.
James L. Montgomery

Alan Smith
SATB and organ
Oxford 978-0-19-351431-7
Alan Smith
SATB (with divisi)
Oxford 978-0-19-351423-2
George Herbert’s poem ‘Listen, sweet Dove’ has a setting by Grayston Ives (published by the RSCM) that is well known. Alan Smith has created an equally memorably piece, written in compound time with duplets enhancing the effect. This attractive setting will be particularly useful at Pentecost, baptisms, confirmations and other services where the Holy Spirit is specially invoked.
Since Tallis composed his superb version of O nata lux (a text for the Feast of the Transfiguration), others have also been inspired to set it to music. Morten Lauridsen and René Clausen in particular have produced superb settings, and now, in shorter and simpler style, Alan Smith has composed his version. As in the other settings mentioned, the performance needs to be unaccompanied and the choir must be comfortable dividing into eight parts. Well performed, this would be an attractive and useful anthem.

Mack Wilberg
SATB and organ
Oxford 978-0-19-351173-6
Inevitably any setting of the Old Hundredth invites comparison with Ralph Vaughan Williams’s well-loved setting. Listening to this on YouTube, in an arrangement for large choir and symphony orchestra, it is clearly stirring. A performance by a small choir and organ may not be quite as convincing – though the music itself is not difficult.
Gordon Appleton

James MacMillan
SATB with divisions
Boosey & Hawkes M060-13334-3
This gorgeous setting of two verses from Psalm 43 – in Latin, the opening words meaning ‘Send forth your light and your truth’ – has all the hallmarks of MacMillan’s vocal style with bold rhythms, flowing melodies, Gaelic inflections, warm harmonies and a sensitivity to the text which makes his sacred music so prayerful and apt for liturgical use. The divisi passages are only occasional and with one part mostly following another in a brief canon. Vocal entries are easy to pitch, and the clusters grow stepwise out of unisons. There is a Brucknerian feel, with rests in the music that would benefit from a resonant acoustic (it was first performed in Westminster Cathedral by the choir of Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School), and dramatic entries that need bright and confident attack. It ends with a gentle, reflective Gloria Patri-like harmonized plainsong, subsiding onto a final chord.
Julian Elloway

William Sterndale Bennett
Peter Horton
SSAATTBB and organ
Church Music Society CMSR140
Published last November, a little late for celebrating the 2016 bicentenary of Sterndale Bennett’s birth, this is a substantial and important anthem. Bennett was a major figure in the mid-19th-century, early Romantic movement in Britain. As a young man he was acclaimed by Mendelssohn and Schumann. His output includes five symphonies and four piano concertos, but remarkably little church music given that he had been a chorister at King’s College, Cambridge. The present work was unpublished and apparently unperformed in the composer’s lifetime. Its choral writing for two SATB choirs is skilful: the flowing counterpoint, antiphonal effects between the choirs, dramatic contrasts and variety of treatment of the text make this a satisfying anthem that deserves to be sung by any church choirs that can muster double-choir forces.

Gabriel Jackson
SATB with divisi
Oxford NH192 and NH193
Gabriel Jackson’s website lists no fewer than 112 pieces of choral music, the majority of them church anthems. His music is in the repertoire of many cathedral and collegiate choirs, though it has a reputation for being difficult and few parish choirs attempt it. But these two pieces would be well within the capability of many choirs, with a bit of effort to learn them initially, and most rewarding for those who try them. The words are of the two hymns traditionally sung at Benediction, but each would make a good communion anthem. They are however a pair, both in E flat and sharing much musical material: indeed the final three-bar Amens are identical. Yet each piece also has a distinctive sound, O salutaris hostia notably featuring drones that underpin the melodies. Both are on YouTube sung by the Byron Consort of Harrow School for whom they were written; do listen to them and enjoy this expressive, contemplative music.
James L. Montgomery


THE CELTIC COLLECTION: A musical journey through Celtic and Gaelic Prayers [mostly E]
Margaret Rizza
SATB with and without keyboard and optional instruments
RSCM B0427
Margaret Rizza has long been influenced by Celtic spirituality. She started composing in 1997 and these 18 pieces include some of her earliest, first published in 1998 and 1999, along with (a majority) newly written and first published in this collection. She describes her introduction to Celtic spirituality as being via the writings of David Adam, and there are two setting of his prayers: the well-known ‘Awaken me, Lord, to your light’ and also ‘Circle me, Lord’ where voices and instruments intertwine, circling each other. Ostinatos are treated in various ways, including using chimes (metallophone or glockenspiel). Throughout there is a calm assurance of God’s presence, but expressed in an inventive variety of ways, and including big climaxes at the end of ‘Jesu, meet it were to praise him’ and (less expectedly) to finish A Celtic Doxology. The almost micro-opera that forms Celtic Birth Baptism (solo midwife, semichorus of watching-women and full chorus of all the people in the house) is one of many items with a text collected in the Outer Hebrides by Alexander Carmichael. Three pieces are attributed in various ways to St Patrick, including the Hymn of St Patrick (‘Christ be with me’) that lingers over the final ‘Christ within me’ as if contemplating what it means for that to be true. A singer herself, Margaret Rizza always writes music that is grateful to sing – I strongly recommend this collection as a resource of meditative choral prayers. A CD has also been issued of all 18 pieces sung by Sarum Voices: see CMQ June 2017.
Stephen Patterson


Matthew Martin
Faber Music 978-0-571-53973-4
Less dramatic and less difficult than the Walton setting, but no less effective is Matthew Martin’s mostly reflective approach to this classic ‘wedding anthem’ text. Phrases often start on a unison that blossoms out into rich and sometimes unexpected harmonies, especially in the second half when ‘for love is strong as death’ and ‘Many waters …’ is repeated. The anthem ends with a beautifully shaped, quiet, triple Amen. It is definitely not a wedding anthem to be sung in the background while the registers are being signed, but perhaps incorporated into the prayers for the couple it could be very moving.

Unison voices and organ
Matthew Martin
Faber Music 978-0-571-53976-5
Written for the Oratory School, Woodcote, and for unison voices only (no optional harmonies), Matthew Martin sets the current Roman Catholic English texts (‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will’, etc.). There is a downloadable two-page congregational part. Catholic schools and congregations will find a dynamic, sparkling Gloria, flowing Sanctus and Benedictus (printed at two different pitches with a top E or a top D), and beautifully shaped Kyrie and Agnus Dei sharing the same musical material. The organ ‘play out’ at the end of the Kyrie becomes the music for ‘grant us peace’ at the end of the Agnus Dei, bringing things together in a musically satisfying way.
James L. Montgomery


edited by Alan Bullard
from S to SATB ad lib., with and without accompaniment
Oxford 978-0-19-341325-2
(spiral-bound 978-0-19-341326-9 £19.95)
In the wake of the Oxford books of flexible anthems and flexible carols comes this book of ‘easy flexible anthems’ edited by Alan Bullard. Its subtitle, ‘Simple varied anthems for the church year’, describes the contents accurately.
It is an excellent collection of 66 anthems suitable for the church choir that wants to sing anthems regularly but may sometimes struggle to have a balanced number of parts. Most of these pieces can be sung effectively in unison, and all have suggestions for performance by varied ensembles, so some are most effective as two-part pieces, others SATB or SAB. For church choirs with limited rehearsal time, this book will be valuable. With this collection, you don’t have to abandon a particular anthem when your only tenor is away. Flexibility allows omitting or rearranging parts without sacrificing the integrity of the composition. OUP has a great advantage in that it has been able to trawl through its many past publications and reuse them (sometimes in new arrangements) here. There is music from plainsong to the 21st century, including by Cecilia McDowall, Malcolm Archer, Bob Chilcott, Will Todd and John Rutter from the present day, and from earlier times, composers such as Tallis, Boyce, J.S. Bach, Stainer, Maunder and even Caleb Simper (whose yellowing music copies are still found in choir vestries throughout the British Commonwealth).
Alan Bullard has included some of his own compositions and arrangements including an anthem based on Pachelbel’s Canon and others inspired by folk songs. As editor, composer and arranger, he has ensured that what is provided here is both practical and accessible, yet of good quality. It contains a variety of music for the Church’s year and a comprehensive liturgical and thematic index. A dedicated website,, allows many of the anthems to be heard in performance – a useful aid to choir directors and singers. The book also includes two settings of Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis – by Alan Bullard with modern text, and the well-known unison Dyson in C minor but with an added second part by the editor.
This collection is wholeheartedly recommended – but if you need a copy that stays flat on the keyboard music stand, do opt for the spirally bound edition (details at the head of this review); both this and the ordinary paperback are excellent value.
Gordon Appleton


George Arthur
Universal Edition UE21714
George Arthur
Universal Edition UE21715
George Arthur
Universal Edition UE21716
George Arthur won the 2015 Three Choirs Festival Choral Composition Competition with his Prayer of Thomas Ken. Peter Dyke’s comment that it ‘created a beautiful meditative atmosphere with relatively simple means’ is apt for these three new pieces despite their very different sound worlds. All Angels breaks up the words of its fragmentary text from the Book of Revelation into pairs or indeed single words. The composer notes how, in a digital world, so much information is conveyed in short texts or tweets, and allows this to influence the music. The ‘thousand times ten thousand angels’ are depicted, but what comes to dominate the music is the subsequent ‘and there was a great calm’. Even the final three fragmented Alleluias are calmed and quiet.
Ave Maria, dedicated to Cecilia McDowall, is based on the opening intonation of the Ave Maria plainchant. The five notes provide melodic inspiration and, superimposed, a chord that is essentially a minor triad with added flattened sixth and flattened seventh. That chord so dominates the music that when the sixth is raised at ‘Sancta Maria’ it is quite startling. Again there is much repetition of short phrases of text, while just before the end, each individual syllable of ‘Ave Maria! Sancta Maria!’ is given slow, separated, expressive chords. The final harmonized snatches of plainchant are very moving.
Ave maris stella takes its cue from the sea (‘maris’) and there is a lilting wave-like pattern between the voices. Of the two climaxes, the first is quite tricky to pitch, while the second introduces a brief note of impassioned turbulence that quickly subsides. The final repetitions of ‘stella’ (‘star’) feel as if there is starlight shining on a calm sea, musically illuminated by a move from flat keys towards E major. It would be an appropriate anthem if you celebrate Sea Sunday on 9 July this year.
James L. Montgomery