Reviews

GMCD 7116 – A Canterbury Celebration

The Canterbury Cathedral Choir, Allan Wicks (conductor), Michael Harris (organ)

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Choir and Organ November/December 1997

CD releases of material originally available on LP can be variable in quality. Fortunately, these performances from 20 years or so ago have a good spread of worthy singing. Even so, we are not on level ground: there are dips and rises. Looking up, therefore, brings to view that delightful setting of Christ, whose glory fills the skies by Thomas Armstrong, and Gibbons’ Glorious and powerful God (both Canterbury) ; at much the same altitude (and mindful of the acoustic),St Paul’s choir sings with due gravity both Battishill’s O Lord, look down from heaven and Greene’s Lord, let me know mine end. Much else is to be found, keeping mostly within the cathedral repertory. When these records were made, the long post war climb towards new standards was in progress. Having attained them, other ingredients were becoming potent in the search for maximum sales. Professional music was now a product to be marketed from much the same standpoint as a fitted kitchen. Fortunately there has remained a steady demand for good LP repertoire remastered on CD. These two discs are good examples. Both contain groups of organ pieces of fairly staid character. Canterbury can claim the brightest choice with Alan Ridout’s lean and punchy Jacob and the Angel.
Basil Ramsey

Soundscapes – February/March 1997

Guild Music specialises in recording the great British Cathedral choirs and serve full praise for helping to preserve the esteemed choral tradition which is clearly flourishing in the United Kingdom and throughout the world in spite of some of the associated financial challenges.
The Choir of Canterbury Cathedral is directed by Allan Wicks in a celebration of music composed by musicians past and present connected with the Cathedral, beginning with Sidney Campell’s boisterous setting of verses from Psalm 81, Sing We Merrily Unto God Our Strength. The outstanding recording techniques used throughout this CD are heard to full effect here; superb enunciation and a full, rich sound adding to the magic. Both organist and choir make the most of the dissonances in Campbell’s writing, and the final Alleluia is as exhilarating and heart-stopping a coda as you could ever wish to hear. The Choir’s warmth is evident on Bairstow’s large-scale anthem Lord, Thou Hast Been Our Refuge, the line “comfort us again, now” infused with a celestial sound. Of particular interest is Alan Ridou’ts organ solo Jacob and the Angel, written specifically for Allan Wicks with the tonal resources of the instrument in Canterbury Cathedral in mind. An austere work with a high level of rhythmic energy; it features staccato chords on foundation stops throughout the piece, and the fortissimo passage in the central section contrasts effectively with the ensuing soft string colours.
I would unhesitatingly recommend the offering from Canterbury Cathedral, not only for its outstanding musical and technical qualities but for such an imaginative and uplifting choice of repertoire.
Jangoo Chapkhana

The Friends of Cathedral Music: Issue 2/1997

The first thing one notices about this disc is the clarity and brilliance of the recording as well as the rhythmic performances by Allan Wick’s choir. The Campbell sets the pace at the beginning with an exciting performance of this jaunty piece – an underused composition. The organ accompaniments are noteworthy too.
The most disappointing item is the Bairstow which despite its solid and very controlled performance, lacks any real drama and is out of place, because, unlike the other items. it is a clinical sound, lacking in energy.
The trebles are a little breathy but have nice control of the dynamic range.
The Porter Jubilate Deo is a delightful find and should be included in the repertoire of those few cathedral choirs that still sing Matins; a simple but very effective piece. Once again Michael Harris is on the ball rhythmically.
The two organ pieces are played by Allan Wicks on the cathedral organ, rebuilt in 1984. The Cocker speaks for itself and is given a sparkling performance. Ridout’s contribution is a wonderfully descriptive piece with mystery set in the opening bars. Both are worthy contributions.
One last note: presentation is everything in the 1990s and Guild certainly have good CD cases, though the usual list of choir members is missing. I think it would be a nice idea to print separate language booklets for export. This would release additional space for photographs and other information.
Andrew Palmer
American Record Guide vol.59 No 5 July August 1996
A nicely balanced program of choral works from the past four centuries brings many pleasant memories of that venerable edifice. Canterbury’s choir may not have the reputation of King’s or Durham, but they are a fine vocal ensemble with luminous trebles and a good balance of lay members. The miking is somewhat close, and occasionally a single voice will stand out, but not often. The organist is a model of sensitivity to pace and balance.
Some of the pieces fare better than others. Generally I find the older literature less satisfactory on this disc. The Gibbons and Porter works are simply less appealing because of their style. The soloists in the Gibbons leave something to be desired, though the chamber organ by Peter Collins is used to good effect. The 20th-Century pieces seem to be more the forte of this choir. Campbell’s peppy opener is well chosen – One can’t help notice a certain similarity between some of the ascending patterns here and those heard in Walton’s Te Deum. The Bairstow, Tallis, and Knight works supply ample evidence of this choir’s ability to interpret smooth Tudor polyphony, the homophonic chant from Knight’s pen, and texts from our century.
Of the entire program, Thomas Armstrong’s Christ whose glory fills the skies stands out as a perfect example of purposeful, sensitive writing for choir and organ. The joy of the opening lines gives way to “Dark and cheerless is the morn” aptly given over to the lower voices. But the mood changes back with “Visit then this soul of mine” and concludes peacefully with “shining to the perfect day”. The choir sounds its best on this, from the pen of the organist at Christ Church during the Second World War.
In keeping with tradition, a few organ solos are included here. Cocker’s Tuba Tune is quite familiar, shaped to show off an instrument’s high- high-pressure reed stop. This is the sort of English organ writing that appeals to some parishioners for its straight-forward simplicity, yet causes others to hear it as shallow and superficial. Whatever your estimation, Harris plays it with flair and allows Canterbury’s fine solo stops to shine. Ridout’s birthday gift to Allan Wicks posits tutti sections against quieter string and flute passages. Cockers piece appears positively complex compared to this.
In brief, a musically performed sampler of rather traditional works that should not offend anyone. Tourists may find this recording a fine stimulus to accompany daydreams of this blessed plot.
Metz