ALBUM TITLE: My Beloved Spake
WORKS: Remember not, O Lord, our offences; Jehova, quam multi sunt hostes mei!; O sing unto the Lord; Behold now, praise the Lord; My beloved Spake; Hear my prayer, O Lord; ejoice in the Lord alway; Humfrey: O Lord my God; Magnificat and Nunc dimittis
PERFORMER: Iestyn Davies (countertenor), James Gilchrist (tenor), Neal Davies (bass), David Stout (baritone); John Challenger (organ); Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge; St John’s Sinfonia/Andrew Nethsingha
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 0790
Appointed music director of the Chapel Choir of St John’s in 2007, Andrew Nethsingha hasn’t let the grass grow under his feet in building up an eclectic discography, from Lassus to Bernstein, Mozart to Howells. Now he turns to the Restoration, sandwiching works by Pelham Humfrey – whose music Samuel Pepys admired and vanity he deplored – between anthems by one of Humfrey’s erstwhile choristers at the Chapel Royal: Henry Purcell.
Head to head, Humfrey’s creative fire burns less brightly than Purcell’s, especially as this programme includes some of Purcell’s most powerful sacred music. Humfrey’s E minor Magnficat and Nunc Dimittis, on the other hand, are perhaps ‘serviceable’ in both senses of the word. But O Lord my God flowers into something worthy to share a disc with Purcell’s searing Hear my prayer – artfully placed to secure maximum contrast with the sap-rising vigour of My beloved spake and the irresistible cheerfulness of the so-called ‘Bell’ anthem Rejoice in the Lord alway.
The warm continental sound of the boys’ voices might sometimes bestow an unexpectedly ‘foreign’ accent on this most quintessentially English music (albeit shot through with imports from France and Italy), but the commitment, intensity and lucidity compels. And Nethsingha has assembled a formidable team. Neal Davies’s refulgent bass ideally complements the finely shaded lyricism of James Gilchrist and Iestyn Davies, while the recently formed period instrument St John’s Sinfonia lends stylish, incisive, bright-toned support. The ‘Bell’ anthem’s Prelude is buoyant of texture and sparklingly insistent.