Reviews

GMCD 7287 – Love and Honour

The Choir of Queens’ College Cambridge, Samuel Hayes – Director, James Southall – Organ

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Organists’ Review May 2005

A Garland for the Queen (1953) secular Choral Works by Arthur Bliss, Arnold Bax, Michael Tippen, Vaughan Williams, Lennox Berkeley, John Ireland, Herbert Howells, Gerald Finzi, Alan Rawsthorne, Edmund Rubbra; C H H Parry I was glad; Tarik O’Regan Tu Claustra Regia (2003); Tarik O’Regan Cantate Domino (2002); Patrick Gowers Viri Galilcei (1988); William Walton The Twelve (1956) Recorded June 2003; T I’7113.

To behold the sheer range expressed in these two CDs – of composers, texts, periods, musical styles and textures, nature of choirs, size of buildings, mix of the professional and non-paid, organs large and modest, acoustics vast and intimate – is to allow oneself a momentary glow of admiration that in the midst of all civilisation’s problems the remarkable tradition of composing and performing choral music still flourishes in this land.

Yes, I know it has all but vanished from the parish churches, but though that is of course a great grief, it was, looked at historically, only a relatively brief period in which the parishes had the resources and liturgical outlook to match the cathedrals and collegiate chapels. The great tradition will survive and develop even from its currently reduced base. That it still has a bright future is surely evidenced by the steady rise in quality of music making in the non choir-school Oxbridge college chapels, such as Queens’, Cambridge, with their largely undergraduate mixed choirs and their undergraduate organ scholars (or, increasingly, a Director of Music to bring maturity and stability).

The ability and commitment of such a choir as at Queens’ is shown not only by their adventurous and demanding programming (let’s ignore I was glad, which scarcely fits the programme or their otherwise scintillatingly high standard of blend and perfor-mance) but by the very freshness of their sound, their lithe voices fearlessly tackling some of this extremely challenging repertoire. Have you ever wondered why we hear so little of the ten songs in the 1953 A Garland for the Queen collection, composed for a concert the night before Her Majesty’s Coronation? Well, it’s not because they are unworthy trifles. Far from it: each of Britain’s leading choral composers was inspired to

draw an their very best, and the results were memorable. Commissioned by the Arts Council and first performed an 1 June 1953 in the new Royal Festival Hall, with the Golden Age Singers and the Cambridge University Madrigal Society conducted by Boris Ord, the ten `songs for mixed voices’ look both back to a pre-war golden age of British Song, and forward to a hoped-for post-war golden age of prosperity and artistic growth under a young new Queen. Heady days indeed. The Choir of Queens’ College is to be congratulated for reviving the Garland for performance and recording an its fiftieth anniversary; rarely has such a collection been more worthy of revival, and rarely can these pieces have been performed with such conviction, blend and excellent intonation. They are well matched with new works by the talented Tarik O’Regan (the next generation’s Kenneth Leighton?), by Patrick Gowers’ popular Viri Galiloei (also rather Leightonesque) and by a scintillating performance of Walton’s ever-stirring The Twelve, where the Organ is played fearlessly by James Southall. Samuel Hayes is to be congratulated in bringing such disciplined excellence to the service of all this memorable music. Something of a triumph all round.

St Paul’s Cathedral is of course a more familiar venue for Choral delights; in this eighth volume of The English Anthem – presumably John Scott’s last – its musicians do not disappoint. From the splendour of their vast band of layclerks sounding off at a cracking pace with Wesley’s great tub-thumper Praise the Lord, my soul (nearly twelve minutes of it), via the spectacular double-choir glories of Parry’s inspired Lord, let me know mine end (10’22”), to the delicate strands of Middleton’s Let my prayer be set forth or John Scott’s reflective, Howellsian Behold, O God our defender, there is nothing but quality of voice, musicianship and music. To the end of his time there, John Scott never allowed the acoustic to determine the tempi – resolute adherence to a speed at which a work feels just right was always maintained, the 10 second echo being somehow cowed into submission (mind you, hearing the spoken word in that building is another matter entirely – a real nightmare). Each piece in this collection – those considered first-rate, those considered perhaps less than first-rate, and those scarcely considered at all – is given added quality through the pedigree of the performers and performance; thus many find a stature which would surprise the cynic. If this CD enables some standard works to receive reference performances, and some lesser works to receive a fresh popularity, then it will have done more than most such collections.
Warmly recommended.
Paul Hale


CMQ March 2006

LOVE AND HONOUR: A Celebration of Brttain’s Sovereign and Music

I was Glad needs no introduction; but A Garland for the Queen may not be so widely known these days. It was commissioned by the Arts Council of Great Britain and performed at the Royal Festival Hall an the eve of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth 11 in 1953. It is both stylistically diverse (just Look at who the composers are), yet remarkably successful as a whole and contains a number of real gems. The freshness and lightness of the voices of the young Bingers of the choir of Queens’ Cambridge bring a lovely lissom breeziness to the music; and crystal dear diction enables the listener to appreciate every nuance in the imaginative Word and mood-painting that is a recurrent feature of the pieces. The contemporary Works are also highly enjoyable. Tarik O’Regan’s Tu Claustra Stirpe Regia is beguilingly sensuous, with beautiful and well-judged employment of dissonance. The Same composer’s Cantate Domino (O sing unto the Lord a new Song) is more energetic. If you do not already know Viri Galiloei by Patrick Gowers, you are missing a treat: it is a very clever work with brilliantly contrasted ideas and a fabulous organ accompaniment. The choir sings this anthem with real verve and enthusiasm -just what is needed for a successful Performance. Finally, Walton’s The Twelve brings the disc to a rousing conclusion. James Southall, who plays so well for all the accompanied items, proves his mettle in the wag he handles this challenging organ part; and conductor Samuel Hayes holds together the diverse structure most convincingly.
All in all, a really enjoyable disc and highly recommended.


International Record Review March 2005

Love and Honour

New Various A Garland for the Queen -Bax What is it like to be young and fair?; L. Berkeley Spring at this hour; Bliss Aubade; Finzi White-flowering days; Howells Inheritance; Ireland The Hills; Rawsthorne Canzonet; Rubbra Salutation; Tippett Dance, Clarion Air; Vaughan Williams Silence and Music. Gowers Viri Galilaeia. O’Regan Tu Claustra Stirpe Regia. Cantate Domino. Parry I was Glad. Walton The Twelve.

Queens’ College Choir, Cambridge/Samuel Hayes with James Southall, Anna Smith (organs).

In various respects, this new CD (actually recorded for the Queen’s Jubilee in 2003) has some attractions, but it is difficult to recommend it wholeheartedly. The main attraction is the new release of `A Garland for the Queen’, the ten madrigal-style settings by British composers written expressly for the Queen’s Coronation festivities in 1953. These are excellently performed and recorded by a choir of suitable (i.e., relatively small) strength, but Parry’s I Was Glad (originally written for the 1902 Coronation of Edward VII, and sung at every succeeding Coronation) – without the incorporated ‘Vivat’s, of course – simply does not work in this acoustic with a choir of just 20 voices and organ; the multiple divisions it contains cry out (almost literally!) for muck larger vocal forces. Here, the Power of the music is diminished thereby, although the initial tempo in this Performance is admirably stately.

Walton’s The Twelve is given an excellent performance, in which the vocal strength and sound-image work well in this underrated work. But the three pieces by Tarik O’Regan and Patrick Gowers have no place here: as works of art, they are simply outclassed by the music of the far greater British composers with which they are coupled. The choir’s director, Samuel Hayes, provides the booklet notes; these are quite good, but not error-free: the widowed Ursula Wood did not become Vaughan Williams’s second wife after 1953: they married in 1952.

This remains, then, a difficult disc about which to come to a decision: it is recommended for the Set `A Garland for the Queen’ and for Walton’s The Twelve, but one could pass over the other items in this collection, 20 minutes’ worth of nothing special.
Robert Matthew-Walker


Music Web Wednesday December 15 04

Youthful performances offering a different perspective on this repertoire. … MusicWeb International

The Choir of Queen’s College, Cambridge is fresh voiced and lissom. Their clean-limbed approach is complemented by Guild’s recording which is not at all echo laden or dampened but catches a degree of acoustic immediacy. That’s important when one considers that the burden of the disc is A Garland for the Queen in which the poems of then living poets were set by ten of the leading composers of the day. Walton and Britten were excluded since they had their own settings elsewhere in the Coronation. Amongst the poets were Christopher Fry, Walter de la Mare, Louis MacNeice and Edmund Blunden – but also Ursula Wood, James Kirkup and Clifford Bax.

They start with an earlier example of more forthright ceremonial, Parry’s I Was Glad, with organ accompaniment. Here it’s gentle and quite reserved – the opposite of, say, the old Philip Ledger recording. The Garland was once available on Gamut sung by the Cambridge University Chamber Choir under Timothy Brown so there’s certainly a discographic tradition here. I enjoyed the verdant Bax – very little vibrato, a clear-as-spring water sound – and the shapely diminuendi and crescendi in the Tippett (easy to exaggerate these). In the VW they catch the melismas of silence well and those Tallis-like string choirs are nicely evoked. The tonal blend is perhaps at its most impressive in the Ireland, even though there are one of two moments of relative weakness in the lower men’s voices; the Finzi is not subject to too much in the way of metrical shifts and its simplicity emerges intact.

Tarik O’Regan contributes two pieces of recent provenance. The organ-accompanied Tu Claustra Stirpe Regia has a timeless feel and summons up a continuum of musical feeling whilst Cantate Domino sports some intriguing registers and organ colours – essentially slow moving but also ebullient and sensitive alternately. We end with Walton’s The Twelve which he wrote in 1956; punchy and jazzy in places and very well understood here.

The texts are here with introductory notes. Youthful performances, then, offering a different perspective on this repertoire.
Jonathan Woolf