WGBH Radio WGBH Radio theclassicalstation.org

Vaughan Williams: Sacred Choral Music / Timothy Brown, Choir Of Clare College

Vaughan Williams / Brown / Choir Of Clare College
Release Date: 02/23/2010 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572465  
Composer:  Ralph Vaughan Williams
Performer:  Ashok GuptaJames McVinnie
Conductor:  Timothy Brown
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge Clare College Choir
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews



VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Mass in g. The Voice out of the Whirlwind 1. Valiant-for-truth. Three Choral Hymns 1. Nothing Is Here for Tears 1. A Vision of Aeroplanes 2. The Souls of the Righteous. A Choral Flourish 1 Timothy Brown, cond; 1 Read more class="ARIAL12">Ashok Gupta (org); 2 James McVinnie (org); Ch of Clare College Cambridge NAXOS 8.572465 (63:11)


Vaughan Williams is probably my favorite 20th-century composer; I adore virtually every note that he set to paper. (There are admittedly a few clinkers, such as the Piano Concerto). One of the few works of his that heretofore has failed to appeal to me is the Mass in G Minor, which has always seemed pleasant but not particularly distinguished. That has now changed radically with this disc. The moment the Kyrie sounded through my speakers, I sat bolt upright in my chair, slackjawed and dumbfounded at the ethereal, pellucid purity and superb articulation of the singing, the fleet vigor and elegance of the pacing, and the astonishing inventiveness of the composer’s adaptation of Renaissance means to modern ends in the manner of his stupendous Tallis Fantasia . (As in the earlier work, Vaughan Williams again created an antiphonal contrast between a solo quartet and a larger ensemble.)


The experience sent me scrambling to audition every other recording of the Mass on which I could lay my hands, to find out what I previously had been missing. My conclusion is that most recordings err in using far too large a choir and correspondingly slower tempi, resulting in an overly opaque sound that overburdens a finely wrought, delicate score. To bring out properly the neorenaissance character of the music, a smaller ensemble is needed. In Fanfare 26:2 James Miller cited a Cedille CD by the Chicago-based ensemble His Majestie’s Clerkes as his favorite, I suspect (though not explicitly stated) for reasons similar to mine. (Martin Anderson voiced a contrary opinion in 21:6.) However, the acoustic in that recording is extremely reverberant, overly so for my taste, whereas Naxos gets it exactly right, with balanced clarity and depth. The other recordings I have found with a similar approach are an ABC disc with the Trinity College Choir of Melbourne, which uses boy trebles instead of female sopranos (I prefer the distaff voices here), and a Delphian CD with the Laudibus chamber choir and a highly transparent, echt -Renaissance ensemble sound (I find the Clare College Choir a bit livelier and better blended). In sum, this is now the recording of choice for this work.


The other pieces recorded here are performed on a similarly high plane, and have much less competition, especially since some (The Voice out of the Whirlwind, Three Choral Hymns, A Vision of Aeroplanes ) are offered with organ rather than orchestral accompaniment. All are very typical of the composer’s choral works, except for Vision with its exotically spiky and dissonant opening section, evoking the roar of an aircraft squadron by analogy with the prophet Ezekiel’s apocalyptic vision of four winged creatures. The closest thing to a competitor in this combination of repertoire is the Hyperion disc with the Westminster Cathedral Choir, containing the Mass, Valiant for Truth , and Vision , but the Naxos CD is superior in every way. This is also apparently the first recording of Nothing Is Here for Tears , and the only available recording of the Exultate justi . The booklet notes, by the conductor, are excellent; the only flaw in this production is the lack of texts, which, given the density of certain passages, are a necessity even with fine choral diction. A Google search will turn up all of those on line; in addition to that of the traditional Latin Mass, they are:


The Voice out of the Whirlwind : Job 38:1–10 and 16–17, 40:7–10.


A Vision of Aeroplanes: Ezekiel 1:4–28.


The souls of the Righteous : Wisdom of Solomon 3:1–3.


Exultate justi : Psalms 32:11 and 33:1–4.


Valiant-for-Truth : The passage regarding that character in the last chapter of The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, beginning, “After this it was noised abroad.”


Nothing Is Here for Tears : a potted version of lines 1721–40 from Book IV of Paradise Regained by John Milton.


Three Choral Hymns : German hymn texts (two derived through Martin Luther) translated by Miles Coverdale, beginning “Alleluya. Christe is now rysen agayne,” “Now blessed be thou, Christ Jesu,” and “Come, holy Spirite, most blessed Lorde.”


Aside from this one drawback, this disc has my highest possible recommendation, and is a candidate for the 2010 Want List.


FANFARE: James A. Altena


------------------------------------------------------------------------

Recordings of Vaughan Williams' Mass in G minor don't come along that often--but with this new one, Naxos has two first-rate performances in its catalog, the other with the Elora Festival Singers. That's where the similarity between the two recordings ends, however--and that's a good thing. In fact, this disc is different from most Vaughan Williams choral programs due to its abundance of rarely-heard works.

The two more-familiar items--Valiant-for-truth and the Mass--are performed as well as you'll hear anywhere on disc; the challenging a cappella scoring in both--but especially in the very exposed textures of the Mass--allows us to fully appreciate this choir's ensemble unity and solid intonation. The Mass is among the faster-paced versions on disc, similar to our reference recording (Cedille), but Timothy Brown knows that slower can mean trouble in this work, and he moderates tempo where it counts, most importantly in the Agnus Dei.

Among the lesser-known works, The Voice out of the Whirlwind is one of those grand cathedral anthems with a busy organ accompaniment, fun for all to sing and play, while Nothing is here for tears (written on the death of King George V) is in the best tradition of this composer's unison-voice anthems whose lovely, easily singable hymn-like tunes and well-crafted organ parts are always appreciated by choral directors and choirs. In a completely different universe is the motet A Vision of Aeroplanes, a tour de force for choir and organ (especially for organ!) that sets words from the prophet Ezekiel (the one about the vision of the "wheel within a wheel..."). In the hands of organist James McVinnie and these exceptional singers, the whole fantastic picture comes vividly to life.

Perhaps best of all--and also among the rarely-heard pieces--are the Three Choral Hymns. Although the three-movement work was originally scored for orchestra, Brown and his choir offer what apparently is its first recording with organ accompaniment. It works well, and perhaps in this form it will draw broader attention and more performances.

The Mass always seems difficult to record, and that's true here, with some harshness in the loudest passages and occasional uneven balances between the two choirs and between the choir and quartet of soloists. It's not a big deal, just a peculiar phenomenon that may be related to the particular features of the work's scoring, harmonic structure, and voicing. I also have to mention that for a recording of choral music to come without printed texts, as is the case here (they are only available online), is not ideal, especially when the majority of texts will not be familiar to most listeners. That said, this is an excellent and much needed addition to the Vaughan Williams choral catalog, and fans of the composer will not want to be without it. Strongly recommended.

--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
The Voice Out of the Whirlwind by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Performer:  Ashok Gupta (Organ)
Conductor:  Timothy Brown
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge Clare College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
2.
Valiant for truth by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Conductor:  Timothy Brown
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge Clare College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940; England 
3.
Mass in G minor by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Conductor:  Timothy Brown
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge Clare College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1920-1921; England 
4.
Choral Hymns (3) by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Performer:  Ashok Gupta (Organ)
Conductor:  Timothy Brown
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge Clare College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1929; England 
5.
Nothing is Here for Tears by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Performer:  Ashok Gupta (Organ)
Conductor:  Timothy Brown
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge Clare College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1936 
6.
A vision of aeroplanes by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Performer:  James McVinnie (Organ)
Conductor:  Timothy Brown
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge Clare College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1956; England 
7.
The souls of the righteous by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Conductor:  Timothy Brown
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge Clare College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1947; England 
8.
A Choral Flourish by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Performer:  Ashok Gupta (Organ)
Conductor:  Timothy Brown
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge Clare College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: circa 1952 

Sound Samples

The Voice out of the Whirlwind
Valiant for Truth
Mass in G minor: Kyrie
Mass in G minor: Gloria
Mass in G minor: Credo
Mass in G minor: Sanctus - Benedictus
Mass in G minor: Agnus Dei
3 Choral Hymns: No. 1. Easter Hymn
3 Choral Hymns: No. 2. Christmas Hymn
3 Choral Hymns: No. 3. Whitsunday Hymn
Nothing is Here for Tears
A Vision of Aeroplanes
The Souls of the Righteous
A Choral Flourish

Customer Reviews

Be the first to review this title
Review This Title
Review This Title Share on Facebook




YOU MUST BE A SUBSCRIBER TO LISTEN TO ARKIVMUSIC STREAMING.
TRY IT NOW FOR FREE!
Sign up now for two weeks of free access to the world's best classical music collection. Keep listening for only $19.95/month - thousands of classical albums for the price of one! Learn more about ArkivMusic Streaming
Aleady a subscriber? Sign In