COMPOSERS: Balfour Gardiner,Elgar,Holst,Howells,Parry,Stanford,Vaughan Williams and Mendelssohn
LABELS: Classics for Pleasure
ALBUM TITLE: English Choral Favourites
WORKS: Various choir and organ works
PERFORMER: Elizabeth Atherton (soprano), Matthew Best (bass); City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus/Simon Halsey; Thomas Trotter (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: 361 4992
Apart from Mendelssohn’s Hear my prayer, this latest album from the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus mostly consists of the secular side of the post-Victorian English choral tradition, interspersed with several organ solos which are rousingly played by Thomas Trotter.
There’s also a rarity by Holst, ‘Come to me’: stylistically an admixture of Stanford and Sullivan, this is the last of his Op. 12 partsongs which to my knowledge has only been recorded once before – on the now defunct Conifer label by the CBSC conducted by Simon Halsey! It is remarkable how little the choir has changed in the 20 years since that recording was made – the singing is still distinguished by a high degree of accuracy in tuning, attack and unanimity of dynamic. These qualities are shown to their best advantage in the quasi-symphonic drama of Elgar’s Great is the Lord, undoubtedly the highlight of the programme, though the soloist Matthew Best’s rather unfocused bass voice won’t be to all tastes.
Similarly the soprano soloist, Elizabeth Atherton, flaunts a vibrato of operatic dimensions which jarringly contrasts with the choir’s clear-cut style. I’m not sure such a voice is appropriate for Stanford’s The Blue Bird: its top line surely needs a more rapt quality, such as is usually achieved by being floated by a few ladies of the choir. Even the Mendelssohn, which might have benefited from a more forthright style, suffers from Atherton’s rather unvarying voice production which fatally lacks variety of expression. A pity, because in many ways
this is a well-contrasted programme, and fans of the Birmingham Chorus in particular should not
be disappointed. Daniel Jaffé