COMPOSERS: S Wesley; SS Wesley
ALBUM TITLE: Wesley Ascribe Unto The Lord: Sacred Choral Works
WORKS: Sacred Choral Works; Psalms
PERFORMER: Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge/Andrew Nethsingha
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN10751
The Wesley here is Samuel Sebastian, son of composer Samuel, of the famous Methodist lineage. He springs plenty of surprises in his choral music. Blessed be the God and Father, for instance, is nominally an Easter anthem but more closely resembles an operatic scena, with recitative-like treatments of the text from the First Epistle of Peter framing a sweetly melodic mini-aria for treble, excellently sung here by Peter Hicks.
Wesley’s theatrical instincts (he worked in opera before his first church appointment) permeate The wilderness and the solitary place. Here no fewer than seven soloists are used, both individually and in pleasingly intricate combination. A dignified Handelian fugue caps this interestingly varied setting, and the eloquent contributions of countertenor James Imam and tenor Julian Gregory are specially notable.
In shorter pieces Wesley can also be gripping. While much of Wash me throughly from my wickedness is couched in warmly Romantic harmonies, chromatic twists periodically darken the music, deepening the penitential intent.
Not every work is this distinctive, and I’d have liked more Samuel Sebastian, instead of the psalm setting by Wesley père which is included. But overall this is an attractive programme, sung with expertise and devotion.