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The Tree

Jack Ross (trumpet); Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge/Andrew Nethsingha; Joseph Wicks, Glen Dempsey, John Challenger (organ) (Signum Classics)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

The Tree
Works by Elgar, Bingen, J Harvey, Hildegard, Howells, Parry, Stainer, Stanford et al
Jack Ross (trumpet); Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge/Andrew Nethsingha; Joseph Wicks, Glen Dempsey, John Challenger (organ)
Signum Classics SIGCD691   65:33 mins

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An album of hope for recovery. Andrew Nethsingha is explicit in his eloquent booklet essay that this latest well-crafted and beautifully sung disc from the Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge is about rebuilding ‘after pandemic and political upheaval’. The title is shared with Jonathan Harvey’s ethereally floating motet The Tree, whose text from Job that a cut-down tree can sprout again provides inspiration. The forces involved steadily grow, from a single treble line for Hildegard of Bingen’s ‘O pastor animarum’, adding parts and singers, culminating in nearly 500 voices for Rowlands’s hymn ‘Love Divine, all loves excelling’.

The programme explores various branches of British choral music, from established stalwarts such as Stainer, Parry, Stanford and Elgar to the deliciously scrunchy harmonies and joyfully rambunctious trumpet outbursts of James Long’s ‘sicut aquilae’. Much of this is also a reminder of the choir’s heritage, with about half the disc directed by Nethsingha’s two predecessors, Christopher Robinson and David Hill, the latter adding his current choir, Yale Schola cantorum, for a heartfelt performance of Howells’s rarely recorded Preces and Responses. Most of the performances are recorded live from pre-pandemic services, the audibly present congregation not to be taken for granted.

Christopher Dingle

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