ALBUM TITLE: The Old Colony Collection
WORKS: Anthems and choruses by Kent, Linley, Avison, Chapple, Webbe, Handel, Mozart, etc
PERFORMER: Handel and Haydn Society/Harry Christophers
CATALOGUE NO: COR 16145
This recording purports to be a historically informed performance by the amateur Handel & Haydn Society of a long-forgotten anthology designed for it around the time of its founding in 1815. It isn’t really. Of the 50-member choir, one of the oldest in the US, only half its members are on the disc here, and they aren’t amateurs but early career professionals. And female vocalists feature heavily, though women were first admitted as regular members to the Society only in 1967. So much for returning to ‘grass roots’, as Harry Christophers claims.
The programme itself is quirky, ranging from rarities to chestnuts. Of the disc’s world-premiere recordings, the anthems of James Kent and Samuel Chapple, and a glee by Samuel Webbe, richly merit a listen. Other works and arrangements – of Handel, Mozart and Mendelssohn – are compositionally uninspired, but the performers’ boldness makes all the tracks engaging. As ever, Christophers draws a gold-standard execution from his choir, and his musical rhetoric is flawless. Outstanding soloists include Margot Rood and Emily Marvosh in the first of Kent’s anthems, and bass Woodrow Bynum in the second.
As a sampling of forgotten choral repertory, this recording is worthwhile – but let’s not pretend that it tells us either about the Society’s past practices, or its legacy as an amateur choir.