Gibbons: Anthems and Verse Anthems

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Gibbons
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Anthems and Verse Anthems
PERFORMER: Robin Blaze (countertenor), Stephen Varcoe (baritone), Stephen Farr, Sarah Baldock (organ); Choir of Winchester Cathedral/David Hill
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67116
Gibbons’s style is very distinctive – he was a classical polyphonist yet deeply responsive to words. So, This is the Record of John has organ leading the soloist (Blaze) as an equal linear partner in textless imitation. The restrained emotion of this, the most familiar of Gibbons’s verse anthems, draws beautiful sounds from the Winchester choir. It’s not clear, though, why two star names needed to be imported. They are often (not always) matched by splendid soloists from the choir, who include two outstanding trebles with an endearing touch of cornetto-like slipperiness in pitching – Thou God of Wisdom is a delight.

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The large-scale full anthems, ‘carrying a majesty’ as Morley described them, are all the finer for the majestic acoustic of Winchester Cathedral. Don’t be alarmed by the opening phrase of the disc – trebles driven momentarily out of tune by their own enthusiasm – nor by occasional over-ardent final chords. Otherwise the choral sound is exemplary – clean, but edged with an appealing English softness. I’d have liked a touch more antiphonal separation to heighten the urgency of overlapping paeans of praise (O Clap Your Hands), but the recording cleverly places the vast ambient space behind the more immediate impact of the voices – a glorious sound. George Pratt