The Choir of King’s College sings choral works by Bernstein and Vaughan Williams

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COMPOSERS: Bernstein,Vaughan Williams
LABELS: King’s College
ALBUM TITLE: Bernstein * Vaughan Williams
WORKS: Bernstein Chichester Psalms; Vaughan Williams Dona Nobis Pacem (arr. Rathbone)
PERFORMER: George Hill (treble), Ailish Tynan (soprano), Roderick Williams (baritone); Choir of King’s College, Cambridge; Britten Sinfonia/ Stephen Cleobury
CATALOGUE NO: KGS 0021 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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For this new recording of Dona Nobis Pacem, a new version has been created by Jonathan Rathbone, paring down Vaughan Williams’s full orchestra to chamber proportions, the better to balance it with the young voices of the King’s College Choir. The piece continues to pack a considerable punch in Rathbone’s edition. Timpani and snare drum still rattle ominously in ‘Beat! beat! drums!’, and a nervous trumpet chatters. Balance is generally good between the players and singers, although the cavernous King’s College Chapel acoustic means that there is less transparency of texture than you might anticipate.

The boy trebles bring an extra, touching intimacy to the Agnus Dei, though there are places – the coda of ‘Reconciliation’, for instance – where their tone becomes attenuated, and others where major surges of dynamic threaten to swamp their contribution. Both soloists are moving, and Stephen Cleobury conducts incisively, with good tempo choices.

A scaled-down edition (Bernstein’s own, for organ, harp and percussion) is also used in the Chichester Psalms. The bucket-like acoustic is again unflattering, but it doesn’t dim the excellent ‘Adonai’ solo of treble George Hill in the middle movement, nor organist Richard Gowers’s dramatic introduction to the finale. Some of the most supple, nuanced singing comes in that final movement, where Cleobury achieves a calm fluidity of motion closely matching the mood of the bequieted psalmist. Interesting notes by Edward Allen enhance appreciation of these performances, which though not definitive are consistently insightful, and provide a viable alternative to adult choir versions. 

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Terry Blain