LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Choral music: Five Poems of the Spirit; Evening Services in D & G; Blessed city, heavenly Salem etc
PERFORMER: Roderick Williams (baritone); Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge/David Hill; Paul Provost (organ); Britten Sinfonia
Sir Edward Bairstow was a Yorkshireman who spent his whole career in the service of the Church of England, most notably as organist and Master of the Music at York Minster from 1913 until his death in 1946. His anthems and services, fundamentally Brahmsian but later with a touch of modal Vaughan Williams, are treasured within the church. Their touch is sure, and word-setting is impeccable. But, on the strength of this varied selection, it’s hard to disagree with Watkins Shaw’s judgment of the vocal music, in the first edition of the New Grove Dictionary, that ‘although it has many beautiful and expressive moments it is not deeply personal’.


All the same, Bairstow could hardly have finer advocates than David Hill’s St John’s Choir, beautiful in tone and balance (though unison tenor-and-bass lines are occasionally blemished by individual vibrato), admirably clear in enunciation, well supported by rhythmic organ playing, and outstandingly well recorded. And the late cycle of Five Poems of the Spirit, given luxury casting with the superb Roderick Williams as solo baritone and the firm support of the Cambridge-based Britten Sinfonia, does give the disc life beyond the choir stalls. Anthony Burton