"Priory’s complete survey of the Psalms of David, the first two volumes of which appeared last year, continues (see below). The psalms are being presented in the order in which they appear in the Psalter so Liverpool Cathedral choir sings the psalms prescribed for the evening of the seventh day of the month through to the evening of the ninth day. Picking up the baton, the Peterborough choir then take us through to the twelfth evening.
Priory are endeavouring to include a lot of chants which have not been recorded before. Perhaps one consequence of this admirable policy is that not many composers have so far featured very often. John Goss, who contributes a chant to the Liverpool programme, was represented by a veryRead more brief chant in Vol. 1 while Walter Alcock and Samuel Sebastian Wesley both featured in Vol. 2. Otherwise all the names are new to the roster.
One trait that was noticeable in the first two volumes was the inclusion of some chants by composers who had a connection with the cathedral in question, usually as Organist at some time. It’s not easy to tell if this trend has been continued because Priory’s otherwise good documentation is lacking in these two new volumes one feature of the first two issues. Previously we could read a brief note by the Director of Music of the cathedral concerned telling us a little about a few of the composers but these are absent in [this latest release.] I hope Priory will reintroduce that feature for future volumes because many of the names of the composers will be unknown to most people. From my own knowledge and a little bit of research I can say that the Peterborough offering includes some ‘home-grown’ composers but so far as I am aware none of the composers on the Liverpool list has a connection with that cathedral.
Listening to the Liverpool performances it struck me that the pacing of the psalms is fairly spacious and steady. That may be a matter of personal taste on the part of David Poulter but it may also reflect the large and very reverberant acoustic of the extremely large building in which the choir habitually sings. I don’t think this spaciousness, if such it be, is a drawback but in general one has the impression that the Peterborough chants move on a little more urgently.
At the risk of making a fairly obvious point an Anglican psalm chant is ‘just’ a few bars of music. The skill comes firstly in matching the chant to the words that are to be sung and secondly in presenting the chant imaginatively with good use of dynamic contrasts, for example, so as to suit and enhance the words. In some psalms - and not always the longer ones - it will be felt desirable to use more than one chant. It seems to me that both David Poulter and Andrew Reid are very skilful and exercise good judgement in these matters.
So, for example, Poulter opens Psalm 37 with a chant by the eighteenth-century cleric, Phocian Henley, which is serviceable but a touch insipid but then, at just the right moment he switches to a chant by Wesley which, as performed here, is much more dramatic. I like the chant by Sievewright that is used for the concluding verses; it has some interesting harmonies and the melody moves in unexpected directions. Psalm 41 is sung to a lovely chant by Roger Fisher, Organist of Chester Cathedral from 1967-1996, which is suitably prayerful yet which has a strong core; this suits the psalm in question very well. Another former Chester Organist’s chant concludes the programme. Malcolm Boyle served at the cathedral from 1932 to 1948 when I believe the poor man was compelled to resign because he re-married after a divorce: things are rather different nowadays. His chant, to which Psalm 49 is sung, is a fine one. As sung here it’s thoughtful and sustained and I liked it very much. With this psalm we come across something not previously encountered in the series, namely a chant sung by men’s voices only. It’s a good idea to include some of these in the series - there’s another one on the Peterborough disc - since many cathedrals will give their trebles a day off each week and have at least Evensong sung by men’s voices. The Liverpool men make a very good job of this particular chant.
Priory’s second traversal of the complete Psalms of David is shaping up to be a valuable series. Those who have acquired the first two volumes can invest once again with confidence. I look forward to further instalments."
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