COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams; Holst; Tallis; Byrd; Britten; Pearsall
ALBUM TITLE: Haec Dies
WORKS: Choral Works
PERFORMER: Annie Lydford, Nick Lee (organ); Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge/Geoffrey Webber
CATALOGUE NO: DCD34104
Byrd’s Mass for Five Voices is the lodestone here, emblematic of the music which inspired renewed interest in the Tudor period among 20th-century English composers. It’s placed centrally in the programme, and given an incisive, warmly blended performance by the mixed voices of the Gonville & Caius Choir.
The fascination lies in tracing the influence of Byrd’s Mass, and other Tudor music, on the pieces conductor Geoffrey Webber chooses to flank it. Most are relatively unfamiliar, an exception being Britten’s A Hymn to the Virgin, ardently projected by Webber’s singers in a refreshing contrast to the default introspection this work routinely elicits.
Vaughan Williams’s Whitsunday Hymn similarly pitches tutti voices against solo singing. The freshness of the choir’s attack as it dispatches the commingling ‘Alleluias’ at the conclusion is palpable, and Sam Dressel lends his pleasingly supple tenor to the solo writing. More reflective pieces such as Whitlock’s O living Bread, who once didst die have an equally immediate feeling to them, partly a result of the tinglingly ‘live’ acoustic of the Worksop College Chapel, where the CD was recorded. The Worksop setting certainly burnishes the glimmering high notes of the excellent Caius sopranos in Howells’s Haec Dies.
Is there occasionally a touch too much extroversion in these performances? Possibly, but so much warmth and positivity is communicated it would be ridiculous to object.