WORKS: English Anthems by Howells, Walton, Britten, Weir, Maw
PERFORMER: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge/Stephen Cleobury
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 7 54418 2 DDD
The Oxbridge colleges have their own musical traditions; and the continuing importance of these is reflected by the fact that these three recordings all emanate from Cambridge. Each consists of a collection of short choral items and projects its own clear personality. King’s College Choir and Stephen Cleobury present a fascinating survey of the 20th-century English anthem in which less famous figures, such as William Harris and Edward Naylor, stand deservedly alongside the better-known Walton, Berkeley and Britten.
But the real discoveries are the most recent pieces – fresh and imaginative settings by Nicholas Maw, Judith Weir and Jonathan Harvey (see feature, page 40) – which extend the musical language of the anthem tradition without compromising its integrity. Our awareness of Elgar’s choral works is so dominated by the great oratorios that the shorter works are relatively neglected. The Trinity disc puts Elgar alongside Stanford, and a most satisfying programme results. Both composers were masters in this type of music, and the atmospheric acoustic of the recording enhances the sensitive performances: Elgar’s uplifting anthem for Westminster Abbey, Great is the Lord, is especially well done.
The Cambridge Singers’ disc collects together existing recordings of works by Debussy, Bruckner and others alongside compositions and arrangements by John Rutter, who directs the performances. But this mix seems unnatural; for in this company some of Rutter’s arrangements are just too cute for comfort, though the standards of recording and performance are undeniably high. Terry Barfoot