GMCD 7140 – A Voice from Heaven

York Chapter House Choir, Jane Strumheit – Conductor

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Go. August 2011

Sacred music from York
Last weekend I travelled up to the West Riding for a university reunion and passed through York.
The Chapter House in the city is a fascinating location, which leads me to a delightful programme of choral music performed by the York Chapter House Choir, conducted by Jane Sturmheit.
A Voice from Heaven is a programme of sacred music by mainly 20th century composers, including one of the most moving settings of the requiem by Herbert Howells as well as music by Holst, Taverner and Walton.Chriss Green

Gramophone April 1998

Recorded in situ. the York Minster Chapter House Choir sing in a way that fully supports their description in the booklet as being among the foremost amateur choirs in the country. They know the reverberant building well and are careful to achieve clarity of line and word while at the same time preserving a fine blend of voices. In quiet passages their tone is particularly lovely, but impressive too is their power of crescendo and of effective attack. The tenors, numerically in a minority, sometimes overcompensate; and the choir as a whole tends somewhat to lose quality as recorded here at a forte. Even so, testing them against others in the Howells Requiem, one finds them emerging with credit, especially as they show a feeling for the style and a due appreciation of the composer’s insistence on flexibility of rhythm guided by speech-values.

This deeply-felt work is at the centre of a programme well chosen to represent the development of unaccompanied choral music in England throughout the century. Stanford’s Three Motets qualify for inclusion only through a publisher’s delay. The booklet-notes are not quite accurate when they give 1905 as the date of composition: they were certainly published in that year but were written probably as early as 1891 and when offered to Novello’s met with no luck. At the other end of the recital come attractively written pieces by composers closely associated with the choir: Andrew Bunney (who is one of the four tenors) and Andrew Carter, their founder in 1965, whose Adam and Eve shows skill in word-setting and in the art of stimulating interest from verse to verse.

John Tavener has become an almost inevitable presence in such compilations and where he goes The Lamb is pretty sure to follow. There is a haunting kind of beauty, but it makes me restive when I read sentences such as this from the notes: “There is no musical development in the Western sense, but that of a different kind which operates on a spiritual and metaphysical level”. This, and the limply repetitive music, stir impatience with Blake’s “innocent” (dare one say “inane”?) questions, the second of which (in such moods) invites the answer “Of course it doesn’t”.

Classic CD Christmas addition 1997 issue 93

A wide-ranging programme this, with some familiar and lesser-known pieces from the English choral tradition. At the opening, Stanford’s famous motets are given with evident affection and commitment; qualities which sum up the recital as a whole.

The York (Minster) Chapter House Choir is a competent group of some 30 singers who clearly demonstrate their collective ability to project text and line, but it would be idle to pretend that their performance of the Howells Requiem, for instance, could compare with the Croydon Singers directed by Matthew Best as a body, but when individual parts or solo voices are exposed, then a want of confidence is sometimes apparent. But there are pleasures to be found in this collection, such as Holst’s carol This have I done for my true love, which is delightfully spry and the conductor is to be commended for being adventurous in her programming. The recorded sound is resonant and rather distant.

An attractive and varied collection of English choral music, recorded in a resonant acoustic.
Timothy Ball