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A New Heaven / Harry Christophers, The Sixteen

Sixteen
Release Date: 07/07/2009 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 001300902  
Composer:  Charles Hubert ParryCharles WoodWilliam Henry HarrisCharles Villiers Stanford,   ... 
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Listeners used to hearing The Sixteen in its most familiar role as interpreter par excellence of challenging a cappella chamber choir repertoire, from Renaissance to 20th century, or in its other role with orchestra in Baroque and later works, will be in for a new experience in this oddly chosen but still very well sung program of standard British cathedral choir pieces. I'm not sure why Harry Christophers decided to employ his elite voices in this kind of "broad brush" repertoire--and in an acoustic that proves more combative than complementary; but he suggests that it has something to do with tradition and familiarity--"it's music that all of us in The Sixteen grew up with"--and the fact that these are among the most Read more highly regarded works of a particular era of English church music.

If you know this repertoire, you'll recognize all of the selections, from Parry's I was glad and Charles Wood's O Thou, the central orb and Hail, gladdening light to Stainer's I saw the Lord and Howells' classic (and disc highlight) Like as the hart. Nearly all of these works feature significant organ accompaniment (admirably dispatched by the barely credited Robert Quinney) and, except for Stanford's beloved motet Beati quorum via and Parry's My soul, there is a country, we hear only some of this ensemble's famously nuanced, refined qualities and well-matched vocal balances.

But these big cathedral works demand, well, a big cathedral sound, and that's mostly what we get, even though we might find the choirs of Canterbury or Westminster or Gloucester or St. Paul's or Christ Church more fully equipped for the task. Even with a first-rate production team the untamed acoustic gets the better of the always well-mannered and rightly expressive voices and organ; and yet, fans of cathedral performances will be used to this and likely won't mind. And although you may sense that this isn't quite Sixteen territory, in the end the exuberant, uplifting spirit of the music takes over and leaves you happier for the 72 minutes you spent listening. (Another plus--a list of publishers is given for the works performed.)

--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com

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This splendid disc of English anthems opens in suitably rousing style with a radiant performance of Parry’s I was Glad, composed for Edward VII’s coronation in 1902. It is possibly taken a little too slowly for my liking here, but contains much impressive bravura singing. The tenors, in particular, really throw themselves into the work, and although The Sixteen expands to twenty-six for this disc, they nevertheless still sound greater than that modest number. No doubt this is due not just to their superb performances, but also to the fact that the recording venue of St Peter’s Italian Church in Clerkenwell would appear to have a very resonant acoustic.

The Parry is followed by an especially beautiful and tender rendition of Harris’s double-choir anthem Faire is the Heaven, which builds to a most majestic climax before a gentle and quiet ending. The ensuing Stanford Beati Quorum via also has an utterly sublime ending. There is an excellent solo from Elin Manahan Thomas in Barstow’s substantial anthem Blessed City (based on the seventh century plainsong hymn Urbs Beata Hierusalem) with its imposing organ part; she also sings the solo in Howard Goodall’s The Lord is my Shepherd. Whilst it is good to hear this glorious piece out of its Vicar of Dibley context, I must admit that I really missed the boy soprano - it’s just not the same!

I was delighted to discover the inclusion of what is surely one of the greatest anthems, Bainton’s visionary And I saw a new Heaven, as well as Henry Balfour Gardiner’s Evening Hymn, written when the composer and great musical patron was teaching at Winchester College. Both pieces are here given fine performances – grand and awe-inspiring.

Although Stainer’s I saw the Lord, Howells’ exquisite Like as the Hart and Charles Wood’s Hail Gladdening Light are all given excellent performances, I felt that Parry’s My Soul, there is a country was not quite nostalgic, atmospheric or reflective enough, the rendition here being just a little too pedestrian and unsubtle. This, however, was my only quibble.

The disc ends with Rutter’s version of The Lord is my Shepherd – a gentle and peaceful, rather than dramatic, conclusion. The CD contains almost the perfect programme, and some peerless singing from The Sixteen under their founding conductor, Harry Christophers. Of the many discs of English anthems I’ve been lucky enough to hear and review, few have been quite as good as this.

-- Em Marshall, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1.
I was glad by Charles Hubert Parry
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1902; England 
2.
O Thou, the central orb by Charles Wood
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Period: Romantic 
Written: England 
3.
Faire is the Heaven by William Henry Harris
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1925; England 
4.
Beati quorum via by Charles Villiers Stanford
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Period: Romantic 
Written: England 
5.
Blessed city, heavenly Salem by Edward Bairstow
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914; England 
6.
Jerusalem by Charles Hubert Parry
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1916; England 
7.
I Saw the Lord by John Stainer
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Period: Romantic 
Written: after 1856; England 
8.
Evening Hymn "Te lucis ante terminum" by Henry Balfour Gardiner
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1908; England 
9.
The Lord is my shepherd by Howard Goodall
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
10.
And I saw a new heaven by Edgar Bainton
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
11.
Songs (6) of Farewell: no 1, My soul, there is a country by Charles Hubert Parry
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1916; England 
12.
Hail, gladdening light by Charles Wood
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Period: Romantic 
Written: England 
13.
Anthems (4) for Chorus: no 3, Like as the hart desireth by Herbert Howells
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1941; England 
14.
Requiem: The Lord is my Shepherd by John Rutter
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1985; England 

Sound Samples

I Was Glad
O Thou the Central Orb - anthem
Faire is the heaven
Beati quorum via
Blessed City Heavenly Salem
Jerusalem
Evening Hymn
And I Saw A New Heaven
My Soul There Is A Country
I Saw the Lord
Like as the Hart
Hail, Gladdening Light
The Lord is My Shepherd
The Lord Is My Shepherd

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