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English Hymn Anthems (Choir of King’s College, Cambridge)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bairstow,Dyson and Wood,Harris,Ireland,Parry,Stanford,Vaughan Williams,Walford Davies,Whitlock
LABELS: King’s
ALBUM TITLE: English Hymn Anthems
WORKS: Works by Parry, Stanford, Bairstow, Whitlock, Walford Davies, Ireland, Harris, Vaughan Williams, Dyson and Wood
PERFORMER: Alison Balson (trumpet); Choir of King’s College, Cambridge/Stephen Cleobury; Parker Ramsay, Douglas Tang (organ)


There was a time when more ‘ordinary’ people attended cathedral services, and liked to hear tunes or texts they recognised when they went there. That’s one basic reason why the peculiarly English type of choral hybrid called the ‘hymn anthem’ developed in the half-century of its heyday, commencing around 1880.

Using familiar melodies didn’t necessarily limit the scope of a composer’s structural ambition, as the opening track here, Parry’s Hear my words, ye people, clearly indicates. Clocking in at nearly 15 minutes, it’s an expansive setting incorporating an organ introduction, hearty unison sections, solos for bass and treble, and three verses of the hymn O praise ye the Lord to cap the conclusion. The King’s performance is predictably idiomatic, if a touch carefully preened and respectful.

John Ireland’s Vexilla Regis is the only other selection here to rival the Parry in dimensions. It’s a more explicitly dramatic setting, and the singers seem to relish this. Five of them take solo duties in the quieter central section, and Parker Ramsay’s organ accompaniment is a model of intelligent supportiveness. Of the other works I specially enjoyed the burnished account of Vaughan Williams’s Lord, Thou hast been our refuge, where Alison Balsom provides a resonant trumpet obbligato.

The engineering captures the King’s acoustic sympathetically, with predictable gains in scale and clarity on the higher-resolution SACD layers. Nicholas Temperley’s booklet notes are excellent, but the font is microscopic, an aspect of its label design that King’s should probably reconsider before expanding this excellent series further.


Terry Blain