Andrew Nethsingha conducts choral works by Harvey

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COMPOSERS: Harvey
LABELS: Signum
ALBUM TITLE: Harvey
WORKS: I Love the Lord; Magnificat; Nunc Dimittis; Toccata for organ and tape; Come, Holy Ghost; Praise ye the Lord; Missa Brevis; The Royal banners forward go; Laus Deo; The Annunciation
PERFORMER: The Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge/Andrew Nethsingha; Edward Picton-Tubervill (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD456

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‘Deo’ is an apposite, yet intriguing title for this disc of Jonathan Harvey’s sacred choral works. Harvey did not shout about his beliefs, which were not confined to a single religion, but quietly expressed them. The rich Anglican choral tradition was an important seam throughout his life and, in addition to being irresistible music, the works on this outstanding disc are crucial to understanding Harvey’s output as a whole.

A labour of love and joy for the choir’s director, Andrew Nethsingha, it is apparent from his personal booklet note and, especially, the nuanced and exhilarating performances, that this numinous music is a natural part of the repertoire at St John’s. No matter what challenges are posed, the choir is utterly assured. The complex, scintillating harmonies of the ‘Sanctus’ from the Missa Brevis build resoundingly to a bracing climax, while The Annunciation from 2011 has an inner glow, belying Harvey’s failing health. Such works might be regarded as normally challenging, but the choir also takes the Magnificat in their stride, with its use of techniques rarely heard in evensong, such as whispering, shouting, sliding and percussive sounds. The opening I Love the Lord is more conventionally written, yet sounds almost as if electronics are involved in creating its mesmeric harmonic halos.

Two organ works are interspersed in assured performances from Edward Picton-Turbervill. The recorded sound requires turning the volume up higher than normal but, even with the organ blowers giving a good impression of tape hiss, the results are exhilarating.

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Christopher Dingle