Church Choirs of Britain

By Edwards, Adrian | Gramophone, September 2014 | Go to article overview

Church Choirs of Britain


Edwards, Adrian, Gramophone


Adrian Edwards listens to a selection of recent recordings from cathedral and college choirs of varying configurations

These seven recordings can be neatly divided into composer-led discs and mixed-repertoire CDs. The disc by the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, is one example of the interaction between collegiate musicians and young British composers. Phillip Cooke is able to compose distinctive settings of familiar liturgical texts, and acknowledges the influence of Herbert Howells. One can also hear the rugged quality of James MacMillan and the sensuous textures of Paul Mealor. Sarah MacDonald directs excellent performances with some beautifully sustained pianissimos.

The Choir of Southwell Minster's recording of the Messes solennelles by Langlais and Vierne celebrates the French liturgical tradition. Southwell's CD was recorded in France's Sees Cathedral, with its two Cavaille-Coll organs of the 1880s. Aside from a few untidy moments, the choir's singing is good and Paul Hale adopts slower tempi to allow for the cathedral's acoustic. Organists Hilary Punnett and Simon Hogan contribute organ solos by Durufle and Demessieux, which sound glorious on the Cavaille-Coll grand orgue.

Buxtehude's choral music doesn't enjoy the reputation of his organ works, and the occasionally uninspired melodic writing of his cantata cycle Membra Jesu nostri might not encourage a change of opinion. On the credit side, each of the seven cantatas has its own unique sound world through the use of different keys with contrasted choral and instrumental scorings. Ealing Abbey Choir & Consort give committed, caring performances under Christopher Eastwood. The clean, youthful sound of the boy trebles just manages to match the full-toned singing of the choir gentlemen.

The Choir of Chichester Cathedral's disc contains hymns, canticles, anthems and organ voluntaries which could all be heard liturgically. There's a satisfying and varied selection of composers, including JS Bach, Lennox Berkeley, Dupre, Purcell, Rheinberger, Tallis and SS Wesley. Sarah Baldock directs performances which are slightly understated but always have attractive legato phrasing. This is enjoyable choral singing which is carefully crafted, possibly at the expense of emotional engagement with the texts. Timothy Ravalde's accompaniments and solo voluntaries are first-rate.

The disc by the Choirs of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral focuses on music appropriate to the liturgies of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The choice of composers is an ecumenical one, with the Roman Catholic faith represented by Tallis, plus compositions by Pablo Casals, Morten Lauridsen and Pergolesi. …

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