WORKS: Anthems and Services
PERFORMER: Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge/Christopher Robinson; Christopher Whitton (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.555794
If heaven for you is a well-disciplined Anglican choir then this disc will no doubt be unalloyed bliss. There are times when St John’s College Choir sounds more like a single, immaculate instrument than an assembly of many different voices, and the music is impeccably phrased and articulated throughout. They’re well recorded, too, with enough, but not too much atmosphere, the choir sumptuously cushioned without being swamped in reverberation.
Imposing as the singing is, though, there’s also something po-faced and a little cold about it all – that equally traditional high-Anglican remoteness. That approach (or lack of it) can be effective in some kinds of music, but how well does it serve Stanford? It’s not for nothing that his church music has outlived most of his other work. In this medium his Brahmsian Romanticism was a refreshing, invigorating influence. Surely a truly faithful performance should be able to recapture something of that freshness – the spirit that brought a new dramatic immediacy to the Anglican liturgy for late Victorian and Edwardian congregations. You glimpse it, momentarily, in the rousing opening of For lo, I raise up – otherwise, there’s just too much elegant reserve. Stephen Johnson