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Ascribe Unto the Lord: Sacred Choral Works by Samuel Sebastian Wesley

Wesley / Choir Of St. John's College Cambridge
Release Date: 02/26/2013 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 10751   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Samuel Sebastian Wesley
Performer:  John ChallengerPeter HicksJason CobbAlexander [Countertenor Vocal] Simpson,   ... 
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 17 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Samuel Sebastian Wesley today belongs among the icons of English church music. In his own time he was in constant conflict with the ecclesiastical authorities and his style of composition met severe criticism. He in his turn expressed his dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in liturgical music and did so in no uncertain terms.

Samuel Sebastian's career in the church began in 1832 when he was appointed organist of Hereford Cathedral. It was the beginning of a journey through a procession of cathedrals, largely following the same pattern: success at first, but soon turning into conflict. Apart from his views on church music which were not in line with common opinions, he had a rather difficult character, something which
Read more seems to have run in the family.

The present disc includes compositions from various stages in his life and of contrasting character. It is regrettable that most of them are fairly well-known and have been recorded various times before. It should surely have been possible to find some compositions in his oeuvre that were less familiar.

One of those which caused controversy was The wilderness and the solitary place. This is often compared with an operatic scena, and may well have been influenced by Wesley's experiences in the music theatre. A contemporary critic judged that it was "no church music". It was written during his time in Hereford, on the occasion of the inauguration of the new organ in 1832. This is the reason Wesley gave the organ so much prominence. At various points it seems to take on the role of a complete orchestra, reflecting the new style in organ building at the time - the so-called 'symphonic' organ which was also in vogue in France. The extended organ part also allowed for dramatic effects. The second section, which is an aria for bass, feels operatic. The third opens with a recitative on "Then shall the lame man leap as an hart", which seems to be a reference to the corresponding recitative in Handel's Messiah.

Also in his Hereford period Wesley composed the anthem Blessed be the God and Father. It is another example of the organ playing a dramatic part. Here we also find some quite daring harmonies. The crescendo in the opening section, culminating in the phrase "by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" sung at full power is quite telling.

During his time in Leeds he composed a complete Morning and Evening Service from which the Magnificat and the Nunc dimittis are taken. The differences between these two texts are reflected in Wesley's setting: the Magnificat is considerably more dramatic, for instance in the description of the mighty and the proud. From the same period dates Wash me throughly from my wickedness which shows the influence of continental romanticism. Some even call this anthem sentimental. Some years earlier Wesley composed O give thanks unto the Lord which includes some reminiscences. Its central piece is a solo for treble. These two anthems are considerably more restrained and sober than pieces like The wilderness. The same is true of Thou wilt keep them in perfect peace. This anthem is pretty close to the late renaissance full anthem.

Ascribe it unto the Lord was written in Winchester and shows a return to the structure of The wilderness. It is less dramatic, although Wesley later orchestrated both. The text is effectively expressed in the music, for instance through the contrasts in scoring between the second and third sections. In the former the name of the Lord is praised, by three trebles, alto and tenor, whereas the third, describing the "gods of the heathen", is set for alto, two tenors and bass. The anthem's opening with the men's voices alone is quite impressive and an excellent depiction of the text.

This disc includes two pieces which reflect a specific feature of Anglican church music: the hymn and the chant. The former is represented by O Thou who camest from above. The melody is known as 'Hereford', referring to the place where it was written. The text is by Sebastian's grandfather Charles. The chant is represented by Psalms 42 and 43, in a setting by Sebastian's father Samuel. This form is quite familiar to most English listeners, I assume. However, this production is also aimed at the international market, and therefore some explanation of this practice in the liner-notes would have been useful.

The Choir of St John's College, Cambridge was one of the first British college and cathedral choirs which adopted a 'continental' sound. Under its legendary conductor George Guest it had already moved away from the ethereal, 'Victorian' sound of the trebles. This approach has been kept alive under his successors and is well suited to the choral music of Samuel Sebastian Wesley. The dramatic elements are fully conveyed, and the contrasts are well worked out. The trebles are very fine, although in the first pieces I found them a bit weak. Peter Hicks is particularly good in the solo section from O give thanks unto the Lord, and the bass Basil McDonald delivers a convincing performance of the solo aria in The wilderness. I should not forget to mention John Challenger who gives good support to the choir and contributes a solo piece from the relatively small output for organ.

As an introduction to the oeuvre of Wesley this disc is an unequivocal success.

– MusicWeb International (Johan van Veen) Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
Blessed be the God and Father by Samuel Sebastian Wesley
Performer:  John Challenger (Organ), Peter Hicks (Treble)
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1833-1835; England 
Venue:  St John's College Chapel, Cambridge, Eng 
Length: 7 Minutes 22 Secs. 
2.
Wash me throughly from my wickedness by Samuel Sebastian Wesley
Performer:  John Challenger (Organ), Jason Cobb (Treble)
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Period: Romantic 
Written: England 
Venue:  St John's College Chapel, Cambridge, Eng 
Length: 4 Minutes 36 Secs. 
3.
Ascribe unto the Lord by Samuel Sebastian Wesley
Performer:  John Challenger (Organ)
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Period: Romantic 
Written: circa 1852; England 
Venue:  St John's College Chapel, Cambridge, Eng 
Length: 2 Minutes 37 Secs. 
4.
Psalm 42 "Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks" / Psalm 43 "Give sentence with me" by Samuel Sebastian Wesley
Performer:  John Challenger (Organ)
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Period: Romantic 
Venue:  St John's College Chapel, Cambridge, Eng 
Length: 7 Minutes 29 Secs. 
5.
Magnificat anima mea by Samuel Sebastian Wesley
Performer:  John Challenger (Organ), Alexander [Countertenor Vocal] Simpson (), Kieran [Tenor Vocal] Brunt (),
James Imam (), Sam Oladeinde (), Basil McDonald (),
Julian Gregory (), Geoffrey Clapham ()
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Period: Romantic 
Venue:  St John's College Chapel, Cambridge, Eng 
Length: 6 Minutes 48 Secs. 
6.
Nunc dimittis by Samuel Sebastian Wesley
Performer:  John Challenger (Organ)
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Period: Romantic 
Venue:  St John's College Chapel, Cambridge, Eng 
Length: 3 Minutes 25 Secs. 
7.
The wilderness and the solitary place by Samuel Sebastian Wesley
Performer:  Basil McDonald (), Peter Hicks (Treble), James Imam (),
Julian Gregory (), John Challenger (Organ)
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Period: Romantic 
Written: England 
Venue:  St John's College Chapel, Cambridge, Eng 
Length: 2 Minutes 17 Secs. 
8.
Larghetto for Organ in F minor by Samuel Sebastian Wesley
Performer:  John Challenger (Organ)
Period: Romantic 
Written: circa 1835; England 
Venue:  St John's College Chapel, Cambridge, Eng 
Length: 5 Minutes 54 Secs. 
9.
O give thanks unto the Lord by Samuel Sebastian Wesley
Performer:  John Challenger (Organ)
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Period: Romantic 
Written: 19th Century; England 
Venue:  St John's College Chapel, Cambridge, Eng 
Length: 2 Minutes 48 Secs. 
10.
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace by Samuel Sebastian Wesley
Performer:  John Challenger (Organ)
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Period: Romantic 
Written: circa 1850; England 
Venue:  St John's College Chapel, Cambridge, Eng 
Length: 3 Minutes 57 Secs. 
11.
O Thou Who Camest from Above (Hereford), for chorus & organ by Samuel Sebastian Wesley
Performer:  John Challenger (Organ)
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Period: Romantic 
Written: United Kingdom 
Venue:  St John's College Chapel, Cambridge, Eng 
Length: 2 Minutes 42 Secs. 

Sound Samples

Blessed be the God and Father
Wash me throughly*: Wash me throughly
Ascribe unto the Lord
Ascribe unto the Lord: O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness
Ascribe unto the Lord: As for the gods of the heathen
Ascribe unto the Lord: They that make them are like unto them
Ascribe unto the Lord: The Lord hath been mindful of us
Psalm 42, "Like as the hart desireth the water brooks" - Psalm 43, "Give sentence with me, O God"
Morning and Evening Service in E major: Magnificat
Morning and Evening Service in E major: Nunc dimittis
The wilderness and the solitary place
The wilderness and the solitary place: Say to them of a fearful heart
The wilderness and the solitary place: Then shall the lame man
The wilderness and the solitary place: And the ransomed of the Lord
The wilderness and the solitary place: And sorrow and sighing
3 Pieces for a Chamber Organ, Book 2: No. 2. Larghetto in F sharp minor
O give thanks unto the Lord
O give thanks unto the Lord: Who can express the noble acts of the Lord
O give thanks unto the Lord: Blessed are they that alway keep judgment
O Thou who camest from above
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace

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