Choral enthusiasts, arise! Here is a new recording that you can really get excited about. A dozen or so miles north of the twin cities of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, lies the village of Elora. And there, at St. John's Anglican Church, is a choir that stands among the best in North America. Its director, Noel Edison, also is the founder of the acclaimed Elora Festival and its Elora Festival Singers, another world-class professional ensemble. The singing on this disc, which includes Psalm settings for the Anglican service, a couple of anthems with Psalm texts, and service music for Good Friday known as The Reproaches, gives further confirmation of Canada's second-to-none stature in the world of choral singing. During the six years that I lived in Kitchener (in the pre-Elora Festival days) I discovered and participated in a choral music tradition that's not widely known or appreciated outside of Canada. Mostly centered in the Anglican churches, it breeds generations of singers who not only are rooted in English church music but also, because of the country's relatively small population and brief musical history, are open to all the world's music, and especially to contemporary works. Luckily for us, Naxos has found this outstanding St. John's choir and I hope we can look forward to many more recordings.
Of course, this program is of a fairly specialized nature. Anglican chant--a stylized singing of liturgical texts, in this case the psalms, to an original, fully harmonized tune--is not for everyone. But over the centuries many of the world's finest composers have lent this form their interest and inspiration--and many lesser-known but highly competent organists and choir directors have contributed their own often strikingly imaginative efforts. If sung properly, as they are here, and if the musical settings are well chosen--also the case on this recording--then listeners are in for a treat. There are too many highlights to single them all out, from Charles Hylton Stewart's Psalms 23 and 103, to David Willcocks' Psalm 131, Hubert Parry's Psalm 84, Ivor Atkins' Psalm 149, Edison's own Psalm 121, and the resounding closer, Stanford's Psalm 150. More famously represented are Edward Bairstow's luscious Lamentations, and the anthems by Herbert Sumsion (They that go down to the sea in ships) and Herbert Howells (Like as the hart, in a lovely, highly romantic rendition with triplets stretched to the limit and beyond). Lennox Berkeley's wonderful The Lord is my Shepherd, so simple and perfect in its expression of the text, deserves wide recognition, and former Gloucester Cathedral organist John Sanders' sensational setting of The Reproaches alone gives reason to own this disc. The well-balanced, luminous sound gives all the immediacy and presence the music requires.
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com