R Clarke: Choral Music (complete)

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WORKS: Choral Music (complete)
PERFORMER: Angharad Gruffydd Jones (soprano), Clare Wilkinson (mezzo-soprano), Mark Dobell (tenor), Timothy Mirfin (baritone), Jeremy Bines (piano); Gonville & Caius College Choir, Cambridge/Geoffrey Webber
This disc does the British partsong repertoire a considerable service. Rebecca Clarke is best known for her excellent chamber music and songs, but she wrote short choral pieces throughout her career and this splendid collection of them, spanning from 1906 to the mid-Forties, shows she was equally adept and original in this medium. Her texts display wide reading and sure taste in English literature (the sole foreign-language text, intriguingly, is by Richard Dehmel) and the word-setting is as bracingly idiomatic as one would expect of a pupil of Parry and Stanford. If the early choruses have their roots in those composers (and in Howells and RVW), they rapidly move towards something much more personal, culminating in such miniature masterpieces as the passionate Blochian psalm-setting ‘He that Dwelleth in the Secret Place of the Most High’ (1921) and the burning female-voice chorus from Shelley’s Hellas composed in the USA during World War II. But everywhere the feeling for the medium is sure and commanding, the voice – often with what annotator Christopher Johnson calls Clarke’s characteristic ‘deep current of erotic longing’ – clear and ardent, so that even such a comparatively early piece as ‘Philomela’ (1914, to Philip Sidney’s words) emerges as a lustrous jewel of British choral-writing. First-rate, convinced and convincing performances; why no credit for the string quartet in the 1940 setting of John Donne’s ‘Daybreak’? Calum MacDonald