WORKS: Works by Stanford, Goss, Sumsion, Rutter, Walton, Parry, Howells, Wood, Britten, Bairstow, Attwood,
PERFORMER: Choir of St Paul’s Cathedral/John Scott; Huw Williams (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67087
Hyperion’s long-running ‘English Anthem’ series with St Paul’s Cathedral Choir has now reached Vol. 7; over the years, the engineers have perfected the art of balancing the choir for clarity and immediacy in the excessively reverberant acoustics of St Paul’s, while also allowing the organ (sensitively played here by Huw Williams) to pass from quiet, intimate accompaniment to orchestral grandeur without distortion or turning to mush. Conductor John Scott concentrates on music particularly associated with St Paul’s and plays to the choir’s, and the building’s, strengths; he is also keen to demonstrate that the rich tradition of cathedral music continues to be renewed.
Here, the span is from Attwood (b1765) to Geraint Lewis (b1958), a chronology which marks every shift in style through Goss, Parry, Stanford, Bairstow, Wood and Howells to Walton, Britten, Leighton, Rutter and Philip Moore. What makes this selection outstanding is that all of the music is of the very highest quality, with the composers delivering object lessons in word-setting: try Sumsion’s ‘They that go down to the sea in ships’ with the drama of storm-tossed souls which ‘reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man’. Or the uplifting crescendo of Lewis’s gentle ‘The souls of the righteous’ written for William Mathias’s memorial service at St Paul’s. Or Moore’s extended ‘Lo! God is here’ – again written expressly for the Cathedral – with its plainsong interpolations.
If there is a chip off the mahogany in these committed, idiomatic performances, the St Paul’s countertenors can sound shrill and hooty in exposed, rising fortissimo passages; that aside, this disc will offer lasting pleasure and satisfaction to cathedral music enthusiasts and newcomers alike. Graeme Kay