This generously filled, imaginatively programmed two-disc set of hymns, Anglican psalm chants, and solo organ pieces should find a welcome slot on the shelves of all lovers of English congregational and service music. But organ specialists shouldn’t pass on this one either, for Judith Hancock’s literally earth-shaking renderings of Duruflé’s magical, mischievous improvisations on “Victimae Paschali” and of Peter Planyavsky’s delightfully demented, scurrying Toccata-Rumba are more than worth a few visits. You can’t help but be impressed with the virtuoso playing as well as with this magnificent Aeolian-Skinner organ’s breadth and power and extraordinary array of colors.
Oh, yes--you’ll get plenty of singing, too,Read more but to its credit the program isn’t yet another “greatest hymns of all time” collection. Although we do get a few favorites--O come, O come, Emmanuel; In the bleak mid-winter; Holy, holy, holy!--even in these instances something new is offered, whether a fresh harmonization or just a stunning descant or improvisatory organ introduction. Even Vaughan Williams’ much-revered Come down, O Love divine (Down Ampney) is presented in a context that gives varied treatment to each verse while preserving the melody and familiar harmony. Other notable selections include Now, My tongue, the mystery telling, beautifully harmonized and set to the tune of Grafton, highlighted by a soaring descant by Alan Wicks; Holy, holy, holy!, with its stirring organ introduction; Bruce Neswick’s starkly effective setting of Of the Father’s love begotten; and many lovely chants, particularly those by David Willcocks (Psalm 148) and D. Walsh (Psalm 127).
The program follows a sequence based on the primary seasons of the church year, including Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Eastertide, a format that provides both a built-in variety and logical order to what otherwise could be a rather unwieldy musical hodge-podge. There’s a decidedly British accent in the singing, from pronunciation of words to particularities of phrasing--a curious and really unnecessary affectation for an American choir; but unless you’re really fussy about absolute ensemble exactness at all times in the psalms, or unless you prefer a mixed choir sound, you’ll find little to criticize in these near-exemplary performances. The engineering does not give a consistent choral balance, sometimes favoring the trebles, at others giving too much attention to individual voices--almost as if you suddenly changed seats. This is neither serious nor frequent but offers evidence of how tricky it can be to record in huge, cathedral-size spaces such as New York’s Saint Thomas Church. The liner notes include full texts and authorship information for the hymns and chants but provide far more detail about the church, the rector, the choir, and the organ than about the origins and importance of the music.
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Christ the fair gloryby Ralph Vaughan Williams Performer:
Gerre Hancock (Organ)
St. Thomas Men and Boy's Choir
Period: 20th Century Written: England