Reviews of choral music, December 2017

S+A+MEN ANTHEMS

ANTHEMS FOR SA MEN [M]
John Rutter
SA Men with and without keyboard              
Oxford 978-0-19-351820-9 £6.95
TWO SHORT ANTHEMS [E]
Adrian Connell
SA Men and organ                 
Edition Dohr (Universal Edition) 88804
£8.95 (or £4.50 15+, £3.50 25+ copies)
TWO FRENCH CAROLS [E/M]
Piers Maxim
SA Men and organ
RSCM A3593 £2.95
Meeting the needs of choirs who need a single melody line shared by tenors and basses, John Rutter has arranged nine of his most popular anthems for S, A and Men, including A Clare Benediction, A Gaelic Blessing, The Lord bless you and keep you, Open Thou mine eyes, and three great anthems for harvest or creation celebrations: All things bright and beautiful, For the beauty of the earth and Look at the world. At only £6.95 for the book of 64 pages, this is excellent value for money and provides a great resource for many parish choirs.
    The text of the first anthem by Adrian Connell, ‘Ambassadors for Christ’ from 2 Corinthians 5.20, was chosen to celebrate the silver jubilee of a priest; the second anthem, ‘Eucharist’, sets words as a short meditation on receiving communion. Both were written for the same small parish choir. Similar choirs looking for simple repertoire for SA Men may like to consider these anthems, although they are rather expensive and, for me, less interesting than those reviewed above.
    Two French carols – D’où viens-tu, bergère? and Quelle est cette odeur agréable? – are given attractive arrangements by Piers Maxim with organ accompaniment. The first is in the style of a rustic dance with the organ imitating fife and drum; the better-known second carol uses lush harmonies. Both pieces are imaginatively composed within the limitations of writing in three parts, although an occasional fourth part sneaks in. A singing translation in English is supplied, although the original French will be preferred, especially by school choirs who may be looking for something in another language. These arrangements are well recommended!
Gordon Appleton

 

JUNIOR CHOIRS 

JUNIOR VOICEWORKS AT CHRISTMAS: 40 SEASONAL SONGS [E–M ]
Kevin Stannard
Upper voices, mostly with piano
Book and CD
Oxford 978-0-19-339281-6 £38.95
Expensive for one copy, but all the pages of music may be photocopied so only one copy per choir is needed. There are sacred and secular songs staring with three secular pieces (‘The Christmas clap!’, ‘Lapland joik’ and ‘Penguin song’) before a unison lullaby (‘Little child you sweetly sleep’) by Alan Woods, a four-part round (‘Gabriel’) by Alan Simmons, and an ingenious ‘Sing nowell!’ by Sue Nicholls with a chorus, verse and descant that can be sung as designated, or each part one after the other as a three-part tune, or built up as a round to form three-part harmony. The first section of the volume concludes with a Czech carol ‘Under Bethl’em’s star so bright’ and the traditional English ‘Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat’.
            A similar mix of words and musical treatments applies throughout. 16 out of the 40 are secular items, including Herod’s ‘Nice boys and girls’ from the musical Nativity and ‘Can you hear the Christmas bells’ that incorporates ‘O Tannenbaum’. Treatments range from folk and medieval chant to rock, gospel ballad, rap and barn dance! Arrangements are mostly two-part but include unison and three and optional four-part items. Each piece has a complete lesson and rehearsal plan plus warm-ups and tips. As well as piano parts and guitar chords, the book includes a CD with professional-sounding backing tracks, more of which are on a ‘companion website’ along with recordings of full performances. The target age-range is Key Stage 2 (7 to 11) but I can see it being enjoyed by older children. They will all have fun not just with the ‘sacred’ carols but, for example, the opening rap-style item and the afore-mentioned ‘Lapland joik’ – a reindeer-calling song, of course!
Stephen Patterson

 

MIXED-VOICE CAROLS

ALLELUIA! A NEW WORK IS COME ON HAND [M]
SATB
Ghislaine Reece-Trapp           
RSCM A3586 £2.50
ALLELUYA. A NEW WORK IS COME ON HAND [M/D]
SATB & organ
David Bednall 
Oxford X666 £2.25
It is fascinating to compare two different musical settings of this fine medieval text. Both are set in a lively compound time, but that by Ghislaine Reece-Trapp is unaccompanied, whereas David Bednall’s employs a sparkling accompaniment requiring an energetic and dextrous organist. Both imaginative arrangements bring a burst of energy in music and words that will enhance any Christmas service or concert.
Gordon Appleton

LULLABY BABY [M/D]
Richard Rodney Bennett        
SATB
Novello NOV 166386 £2.25    
This delightful setting of a 16th-century text was written for the choir of King’s College, Cambridge and requires fine intonation, especially in the jazz-influenced harmonies. A good performance of this carol will create a momentary time of peace amid the jollity of Christmas.

THE HOLLY AND THE IVY [M/D]
Julian Marshall
SATB 
Novello NOV295812 £2.25
Not an arrangement, but a newly composed tune to familiar words, this is fun. With its jazzy rhythms and blue notes, choirs and audiences will enjoy this setting – but in order for it to sound effortless and natural, much preparation will need to be given to the details, not least the chromaticism starting in the first bar!

THE MAGI’S GIFTS [M/D]
Richard Allain
SSATBarB
Novello NOV296604 £2.25
Commissioned for the choir of Merton College, Oxford, this beautiful setting of words by Thomas Allain is most appropriate for Epiphany. The music is unaccompanied in six parts (two soprano lines and a baritone line enrich the harmony), quite slow and with rich harmony requiring fine tuning from the choir. This is an imaginative addition to the Epiphany repertoire in both words and music.

SHEPHERDS, GUARDING YOUR FLOCKS [E/M]
Alan Bullard   
SATB and keyboard
Oxford X618 £2.25
A SOUND OF SINGING FILLS THE AIR [E/M]
Malcolm Archer
SATB and organ        
Oxford X613 £2.25
Here are two tuneful carols that choirs will enjoy singing. The texts may be unfamiliar, but are set in a most sensitive way, as you would expect from both these composers. It is particularly good to discover the poem by Timothy Dudley-Smith used in the Malcolm Archer piece. This gentle carol starts with sopranos in verse 1, four-part harmony unaccompanied in verse 2, tenors and basses in verse 3 and full choir, then descant and organ combine in the last verse reaching a fortissimo climax before the carol ends quietly. Alan Bullard’s setting is equally melodic – with the main melody shared by upper and lower voices then arranged unaccompanied in a chorale. Interest is maintained by setting this sometimes in the minor, then in its tonic major. The chorus ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’ in both these carols is melodically remarkably similar!

REMEMBER BETHLEHEM [E/M]
Richard Wilberforce
SATB
RSCM A3594 £2.00
THE VIGIL [E/M]
Richard Wilberforce
SATB and keyboard
RSCM A3595 £2.50
Interestingly, Richard Wilberforce has written both text and music to these pieces. In Remember Bethlehem, he acknowledges his inspiration for the text from the songsmith, Jake Thackray who describes Mary as a shabby little country girl arriving at Bethlehem. He has also drawn parallels with some of the words from Charlotte Bronte’s novel, Jane Eyre. The music was influenced by Peter Warlock’s Bethlehem Down (the composer describes this as ‘thinly-based affection’, apparent in the triple metre and similarities at cadences). His depiction of The Vigil was inspired by a 15th-century painting of animals at the manger, and also recalls for me the words of the motet O magnum mysterium, that animals were some of the first to see the new-born Jesus. Dare I suggest that the gentle music pays homage to John Rutter?
Gordon Appleton

 

SATB ANTHEMS

PSALM 56 [D]
Bernard Hughes         
SATB              
Novello NOV296725 £2.25
It will be a rare church choir that can negotiate the rhythmic vitality and tonal complexity of Bernard Hughes’s Psalm 56. Unaccompanied, and with a text few composers have probably set before (‘mine enemies would daily swallow me up’), it includes the dedication ‘to the chief musician upon Jonathelemrechokim, Michtam of David’ set to music. Nevertheless, this could be most effective in performance.

HOW LOVELY IS YOUR DWELLING PLACE [E/M]
Paul Mealor    
SATB and organ
Novello NOV296769 £2.25
Familiar verses from Psalm 84 are given a memorable treatment here by Paul Mealor. Repetition aids the chant-like effect, more Taizé than Gregorian chant. This is an attractive anthem for modest choirs.

O REX GLORIAE [M]
Charles Wood
SATB
Church Music Society CMSR 138 £1.95
This is an anthem with an Ascensiontide text, in Latin and set for unaccompanied choir. Well crafted, as expected from Charles Wood, with interesting voice parts, it is also typical of its composer by featuring a huge dynamic range from pp to the final ff exuberant Alleluias. It is good to have this anthem rediscovered and published for reasonably competent four-part choirs.
 
MY HANDS I LIFT TO YOU [M]
Alan Bullard   
SATB and piano
Banks Music Publications ECS587 £1.75
Here is a wedding anthem with texts based on Celtic and Native American prayers. As the text is not specifically Christian, it could be widely used and not only in church services. The words are skilfully set by Alan Bullard who has produced an attractive and melodious anthem appropriate for modest choirs that will be effective at a wedding celebration or reception. Although written with piano accompaniment, this could easily be played on the organ.

LAUDA ANIMA [E]
Benjamin Harlan
SATB and piano         
Oxford X681 £2.25
This is John Goss’s tune to ‘Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven’ but jazzily arranged in 7/8 time with a bouncy piano accompaniment. It’s an amusing arrangement by a professor of church music in New Orleans.
Gordon Appleton

JESU DULCIS MEMORIA [M/D]
Judith Bingham
SSA and organ
Edition Peters EP72840 £3.00
AVE MARIA [E/M]
Howard Skempton
SATB
Oxford NH216 £1.70
GLORY BE TO GOD FOR DAPPLED THINGS [M/D]
Paul Spicer
SATB with divisi and organ
Boosey & Hawkes 979-0-060-13237-7 £2.99
Headington School’s choice of Judith Bingham to commission for their 2015 centenary was inspired. Her setting of Jesu dulcis memoria has warmth and beauty. It grows out of the opening five notes of the organ part – a part that is full of interest and supports the vocal lines without doubling them. The text alternates Latin verses of Bernard of Clairvaux with the medieval the medieval English ‘Suete Jhesu, king of blysse’. The five verses are strongly characterized, with a climax just before the end (‘sit nostra in te gloria’) before falling back to a dulcis memoria ‘sweet memory’ of the opening.
            Howard Skempton’s Ave Maria also has warmth, with the harmony dominated by thirds and sixths. The opening ‘Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum’ is repeated four times with the same melody but varied harmonization each time. The climax is on the word ‘Jesus’, two-thirds of the way through. The final simple cadence is strangely satisfying.
            Paul Spicer’s setting of Gerard Manley Hopkins is skilful and effective. An arresting opening builds up repeated calls of ‘Glory’, before a recitation of the various dappled things with much musical contrast between them. Much is made of ‘all things counter, original, spare, strange’, with music that is just that. Then the opening words return but as a celebratory dance, culminating with repeated cries of ‘Praise him’.
James L Montgomery

CHRISTMAS ANTHOLOGY [E–M/D]
Firehead Editions FH-160ANTH £20.00
Firehead Editions have just released their Christmas Anthology, described as ‘a resource book for parish musicians’ including those ‘with more limited resources’. Composers are Frederick Frahm, Huw Morgan, Neil Thornock, Janet Jennings, Mark Hewitt, Jared Isaac Aragón and Michael Bonaventure. It is an unusual combination of Christmas anthems (including unison, upper voices and SATB) and instrumental music (organ pieces and one for organ and handbells) – see http://fireheadeditions.com/anthology-for-christmas/ to preview a complete copy. The price of £20 is for a digital download of the eight choral pieces (and a licence to reproduce copies) plus the four instrumental ones. By the time this review is printed they should all also be available separately.
Julian Elloway