Collection: The Long Day Closes

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COMPOSERS: Elgar,Macfarren,Stanford,Sullivan,Wood
LABELS: Somm
WORKS: The Long Day Closes; Blue Bird; Sweet and Low; Go Song of Mine
PERFORMER: Canzonetta/Jeffrey Wynn Davies
CATALOGUE NO: SOMMCD 204 DDD

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It’s apt that the performers on this disc should be an amateur choir, albeit a prizewinning one (1992 Sainsbury’s Choir of the Year, no less), since that’s exactly what most of these Victorian and Edwardian partsongs were meant for.

A popular sight-singing movement headed by one Joseph Mainzer was responsible for a huge explosion in choral singing: Robert Anderson’s booklet notes quote an 1880 catalogue’s claim that 23,000 or more partsongs had been published in England since 1750.

Admittedly this repertoire is far from fashionable at the moment. But if you can get beyond the fair maidens’ briny tears on their dreamless beds, you’ll discover some music well worth getting to know, and highly satisfying and realistic for most choirs to sing. The selection ranges from old favourites like Sullivan’s ‘The Long Day Closes’ and Stanford’s exquisite ‘Blue Bird’, to some less familiar Pearsall and Parry.

Canzonetta’s award-winning qualities are obvious: one can almost see the judges chalking up marks for spot-on massed entries, synchronised sounding of troublesome consonants at the end of phrases, and clear diction – you hardly need the full texts, though Somm generously provides them. But perhaps the performers are still a bit too conscious of point-scoring to convey any magic that might be lurking in the works – there’s something rather pedestrian about it all, not helped by a dry, uninspired acoustic.

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The singers smoothly negotiate the close, almost barbershop harmonies of Barnby’s ‘Sweet and Low’, to words by Tennyson; but the sopranos in Elgar’s ‘Go Song of Mine’ make a horridly chilling noise on the high notes. These works deserve to be better known, but perhaps need different advocates to do them full justice. Janet Banks