Notes and Editorial Reviews
The excellent idea behind this CD, previously issued on Hyperion’s full-price label as CDA67076, is to celebrate the achievements of the famous Glasgow Orpheus Choir and their long-serving conductor, Sir Hugh Roberton.
The choir was originally attached to a working men’s club and Roberton, a funeral director and self-taught musician, became its conductor in 1901. Five years later, in 1906, the choir became independent of the club, assumed the name Glasgow Orpheus Choir, and gradually built a formidable reputation as one of Britain’s premier choirs, until it gave its final concert in 1951, the year before Roberton’s death. The items in this programme have been selected to give a flavour of the choir’s repertoire and, as
Kenneth Roberton puts it in his liner note the programme “comprises choral pieces imperishably associated with it.” I’m not entirely sure if Vaughan Williams’ masterly Three Shakespeare Songs were in the choir’s repertoire. If they were they just squeaked in since they were only published in 1951 and the choir’s final Glasgow concert took place in April that year.
If I have a criticism of the programme it lies in the selection of the opening group of traditional items, which comprise ten of the first eleven tracks. These pieces are predominantly slow in tempo and it’s not until track five that we get a quick piece – and then it’s the toe-curlingly twee The Wee Cooper o’Fife. A more varied mix of songs would not have been amiss. That said, there are some lovely things in the selection, including Roberton’s own All in the April evening which, we are told, became the choir’s signature tune – just as Crimond, then almost totally neglected, became their habitual closing item. Two of the finest of the traditional numbers are the arrangements by Vaughan Williams, the gently haunting Ca’ the yowes and the equally haunting and exquisite The Turtle Dove. Both receive ravishing performances here.
Towards the end of this programme Michael Brewer treats us to a marvellous selection of the very finest of English part songs – I hope the Irishman, Stanford, will forgive me for referring to his sublime The Blue Bird as “English”. Perhaps I’ll be forgiven if I add hastily that for my money it’s one of the very finest part songs in the English language and here it receives a marvellous performance in which soprano Bryony Lang distinguishes herself through the lovely pure tone in which she sings the cruelly exposed solo line. The two Elgar items are very well done and Michael Brewer takes My love dwelt in a northern land at a slightly more flowing tempo than one sometimes hears, greatly to the music’s advantage. I also much admired the clarity of texture that Brewer and his singers bring to Parry’s wonderful Never weather-beaten sail. And full marks to them also for a wonderful rendition of Vaughan Williams’ inspired set of Three Shakespeare Songs. These are magical pieces and Laudibus do them full justice, not least the grave beauty of the second song, ‘The cloud-capp’d towers’. Sir Arthur Sullivan wins his place in this distinguished company too. The words of The long day closes may jar somewhat to our twenty-first century ears – but, then, the same could be said of the text that Elgar sets in My love dwelt in a northern land. However, Sullivan’s part-writing and simple melodic inspiration disarms criticism and one is glad to find this song closing the programme.
From my earlier comments you will have probably gathered that the singing of Laudibus is quite splendid throughout the programme. Of course, this is a smaller choir that the one that Roberton directed – it comprises seven sopranos, four altos and five each of tenor and basses. They sing with freshness and clarity and Michael Brewer has made them into a flexible, well-balanced group. The singing gave me considerable pleasure. Hyperion recorded them in a very suitable acoustic, which has just the right amount of resonance and reverberation.
Full texts are provided and the good notes are by Kenneth Roberton. I wonder if he is a descendant of the Orpheus Choir’s distinguished conductor?
As a tribute to Sir Hugh Roberton and his legendary choir this CD succeeds splendidly but it is also a skilfully executed programme that will give great pleasure in its own right.
-- John Quinn, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
The Wee Cooper o' Fife by Traditional
Date of Recording: 1998
O can ye sew cushions by Traditional
Date of Recording: 1998
A hundred pipers by Traditional
Written: United Kingdom
Date of Recording: 1998
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