GMCD 7265 – Songs from Heaven and Earth
The Choir of Queens’ College Cambridge, Matthew Steynor – Director, Samuel Hayes – Organ
Gramophone March 2004
A young and eager choir highlight music by the unjustly neglected Brian Brockless
Here is a rare appearance on disc of music by Brian Brockless (1926-95). He was not prolific, concentrating his energies mostly on church and organ music (and it is only through the latter that he has previously appeared on the Gramophone database), but on the strength of these four, short anthems, such neglect is unfounded. A characteristic of Brockless’s music is his use of perky, jagged and unpredictable rhythms which the Queen’s College choir clearly relish, producing some vivacious, incisive singing. The sudden splashes of harmonic acid in Come Holy Spirite, Most Blessed Lorde are precisely, if somewhat unsubtly, delivered by these 17 young and eager voices.
Otherwise, this interesting programme is already well represented on disc, and set beside some exceptionally stiff competition the Queen’s choir has little to offer; although there are some really enjoyable moments in the Britten Flower Songs and they summon up something quite magical for Jonathan Harvey’s I love the Lord.
As the notes point out, ‘the personnel of the choir change substantially from year to year’, which probably accounts for the general lack of blend, with some voices clearly standing out harshly; and while there is no denying the obvious technical skill and sheer enthusiasm of all these singers, there is insufficient colour and variety to make this a particularly enjoyable disc of choral singing per se.
Organists’ Review February 2004
Finally, the fine Queens’ College Choir presents an enjoyable programme that includes one or two rarities, notably Vaughan Williams’ Choral Hymns, subtle pieces that are unaccountably ill-known. The singers are on really top form, giving first-rate accounts of the challenging anthems by Jonathan Harvey whilst also making a case for more conventional fare such as the essentially tuneful pieces by Brockless. There is absolutely no fuzziness about the singing, the sopranos especially exuding a purity of line that will be the envy of many. Britten’s Te Deum in E is one of his most accessible canticles, and his Flower Songs exemplify his attention to detail when word-setting; the choir does them equal justice. All in all, it would be hard to find more accomplished choral singing anywhere, I feel. Hard dot beat, this one: treat yourself!
International Record Review October 2003
What is an apparently disparate programme of British choral music in fact works extremely well, and includes not a few revelations. The choir shows its strengths immediately in the Vaughan Williams pairing with which the disc opens: It captures perfectly the delicate beauty of Heart’s Music, and Valiant for truth receives as committed a performance as I have ever heard, its strength somehow underlined by the relatively slow speed chosen. Brian Brockless’s work is less well known than it deserves to be. Essentially traditional in idiom, it yet provides a series of technical challenges (the choir only just copes with the climatic ending of Christ is now risen agayne) and is strikingly memorable: Brockless clearly has something to say and a convincing way of saying it.
The Britten pieces are obviously meat and drink to Queen’s College, so comfortable does it sound with them – it’s certainly quite rare to hear the Te Deum swing in this uninhibited fashion and one may say the same of Vaughan William’s Three Choral Hymns, which really go with a bang. Complementing this repertoire are Jonathan Harvy’s anthems Come. Holy Ghost and I love the Lord, and two very short settings of Edward Thomas by Howard Skempton. The Harvey pieces are sung with impressive clarity and conviction (especially Come. Holy Ghost, in which the chant melody emerges again in a tremendously organic fashion at the end). The Skempton miniatures, which I find somewhat anaemic, also receive lovingly crafted performances. Altogether an impressive disc, excellently sung and very well recorded.