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Holst: I Vow to Thee, My Country (Sacred Choral Works)

Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea/William Vann; Joshua Ryan (organ) (SOMM Recordings)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

I Vow to Thee, My Country – sacred choral works
Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea/William Vann; Joshua Ryan (organ)
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD 279   76:19 mins


Holst’s church music has, it seems, never been put together on a single disc before, so this new SOMM release – including five first recordings – will automatically interest collectors of the composer’s music. ‘Not Unto Us, O Lord’ is the most substantial of the recorded premieres, a six-minute anthem where a stirring tenor solo (sung by Edward Hughes) is flanked by blocks of contrapuntal choral writing at times recalling Mendelssohn.

‘To My Humble Supplication’, another psalm setting, comes from later in Holst’s career, and plumbs more complex emotions. Matthew Long is the excellent tenor soloist, lending plangency to the psalmist’s pleadings, and soprano Eloise Irving’s glinting interjection is also telling. Conductor William Vann gives substantial breadth to the music, ensuring that the introspection of Holst’s response is fully registered.

Vann’s talent for eliciting intelligent responses to text, and his use of dynamic nuances to clarify meaning, are splendidly evident in the Nunc Dimittis. The 20 singers of the Royal Hospital Chelsea choir give life to every line, moving from hushed beginnings to full-voiced elation with rare articulacy and confidence. The Short Festival Te Deum is fervently delivered, though occasionally the singers over-stretch in search of the sheer amount of volume needed.

Other highlights include the use of pealing bells and distanced upper voices in ‘Eternal Father’, and the unaccompanied eight-part Ave Maria, affectingly delivered by the Royal Hospital choir’s women. Full printed texts and informative booklet notes further enhance this useful and very interesting issue.


Terry Blain