WORKS: In The Bleak Midwinter; Evening Watch; Lay A Garland; Os justi
PERFORMER: Exmoor Singers/James Jarvis
CATALOGUE NO: EXM 01CD DDD
These two discs by young British choirs mix short sacred and secular, almost exclusively English pieces. But whereas the Finzi Singers limit themselves to unaccompanied music by Vaughan Williams and Holst, coherent programming was obviously not an issue for the Exmoor Singers, who present a miscellaneous selection of music from Tallis to Tavener, with one wild card, Bruckner’s ‘Os justi’, on this, their debut disc.
Both groups draw soloists from their ranks, but the Finzis, who already have six well-received discs of 19th- and 20th-century British vocal music to their credit, have a better stable of singers to draw from. The intonation of a couple of the Exmoor’s female singers can be erratic: the opening verse of Darke’s ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ is bleak indeed. Chorally, too, the Finzis have the edge, producing polished and expressive performances.
Although the Vaughan Williams pieces are more immediately appealing, it is interesting to trace Holst’s development from the early, Parry/Stanford-like Four Partsongs of the 1890s to the ‘Evening Watch’ of 1924 with its mysterious, cold, open harmonies. But the Exmoor Singers too have their moments.
Pearsall’s ‘Lay a Garland’ is warmly cherished by the choir; there is some effective singing in Tippett’s Three Negro Spirituals, and the uncompromising text of Tavener’s ‘Funeral Ikos’ is sympathetically treated. The recorded sound, though, is not sufficiently defined; the contrapuntal works risk sounding blurred. Janet Banks