Magnificat, Vol. 2
Settings by J Anderson, L Berkeley, Howells, F Jackson, Pärt, Sumsion, Swayne, Walton and S Watson
Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge/Andrew Nethsingha; Glen Dempsey (organ)
Signum Classics SIGCD667 74:22 mins
St John’s College Choir’s 2019 disc of Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis settings, an unmitigated pleasure, is now matched by this second volume. It starts with a searching rendition of Herbert Howells’s Collegium Regale setting of the canticles, with especially expressive singing from the boy trebles and a plangent tenor solo by Gopal Kambo in the Nunc Dimittis.
The choir’s fine-tuned technical control under Andrew Nethsingha is evident in a meticulously modulated account of Arvo Pärt’s restrained Magnificat. The fairly wide vibrato in the lower voice parts – obvious, for instance, in Francis Jackson’s Evening Service in G – may not be to everybody’s taste, but in general Nethsingha’s tendency to prioritise immediacy of communication over smoothly finished textures pays rich dividends.
Nethsingha asks a lot of his 33 singers in terms of nuance and dynamic contrast – far more than most collegiate choirs are capable of – and their corporate virtuosity is palpable in a thrillingly incisive take on Walton’s Chichester Service, where the tricky rhythms and hairpin expressive markings gain sharp dramatic significance. It’s a wonderfully confident performance, typical of the recording as a whole. Add in Rowan Williams’s absorbing booklet essay on the theological background to the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis texts, and Nethsingha’s penetrating notes on the music, and you have a package that no lover of the Anglican choral tradition will want to miss.