GMCD 7151 – Peace In Our Time – Music of Peace and War
The Choir of Lincoln College Oxford, Benjamin Nicholas – Director, Nicholas Chalmers – Organ
From Choir and Organ September/October 1999 – Page 68
Nuggets Of gold
It’s good to see that some of the less well known ( I hold back from saying lesser) Oxbridge College Choirs are recording CDs these days. It’s also heartening to see that individual colleges are taking pride in their musical alumni to the extent of encouraging them to give concerts, go on tour and produce fine recordings every so often.
These two CDs hail from John Wesley’s old alma mater, Lincoln College, Oxford. Being the less than proud possessors of probably the dullest instrument in Christendom, both CDs were recorded in Exeter College’s Chapel next door. A little over a year separates the discs but there are a few of the same singers on both and overall the sound the choir makes is not terribly dissimilar.
The first is a cornucopia of music written in honour of the Blessed Virgin. The repertoire is thoroughly predictable and very sweetly sung throughout, though sometimes too much so. I am pleased to be able to report that this is one of a few collegiate CDs where the bottom end of the choir makes an uncharacteristically mature sound. Refreshing in this type of recording where so often the romantic repertoire is the ‘achilles heel’ of so many youthful aspirations. Benjamin Nicholas’ accompaniment is mature throughout, though Howells’ Magnificat ( Coll Reg.) really cries out for a big fat. broad diapason sound in the Gloria climax. Somehow just ‘loud organ sound’ is simply not enough. The organ does sound more at home in Dupré’s versets on Ave Maris Stella here too, the men shine in the alternate verses of plainsong. Schubert’s Stabat Mater, a super but brief setting, is expressively sung and contains some of the most beautifully shaped choral singing on the disc. Tavener’s Hymn for the Dormition, a rather tricky little number requiring ‘harmonic’ singers as opposed to ones that ‘just sing the part’, comes off exceptionally well; almost worthy of the epithet, professional.
A great disc, my only wish being for a bit of male alto sound for colour and spice which is lacking around middle C.
The second disc is concerned with more sombre things, though the format is pictorial starting as it does, with the Last Post and ending with Reveille. For me, this CD contains more expressive singing than the first; maybe that’s the subject material or the line up of singers or whatever. The sound is more vibrant – taking a chance once or twice, even if strain or inaccuracy creeps in. ‘He who dares…’
There are some jewels here too. Stanford’s For lo, I raise up. Vaughan Williams’s Lord, thou hast been our refuge and Kodály’s Agnus dei from the Missa Brevis. All are sung with youthful verve and dignity. The Kodály is especially impressive, not least for the tortuously high solo soprano parts, carried off here with almost ease. Douglas Guest’s They shall grow not old and the Kontakion of the Dead are almost prerequisite for this genre of programme.
Of the unknown territory I can especially recommend Philip Wilby’s A Peace Prayer: Dove è Amore and John Joubert’s Libera Plebem. With such a varied programme I could have done without hearing yet another performance of Parry’s My Soul, there is a country and I’m not sure about Valiant for Truth of Vaughan Williams for that matter. What I would have loved is a few German pieces. Think long and hard about it and the answer is there somewhere.
Congratulations to the College, the Choir and both the Organist and the Director. for the results of their endeavours, I, for one, will return to in the future. If you’re tiring of
the Oxbridge traditional sound then give this one a whirl. You’ll enjoy it.
Both CDs are perfectly recorded by Gary Cole and the booklet design for the first is unusually good.
Very rarely can I say that.