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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Hit and Miss Choral Outing

Karl JENKINS (b. 1944)
Sing we merrily unto God [4:26]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Greater love hath no man [5:20]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Cantique de Jean Racine [4:45]
Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Beati quorum via [3:21]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Pièce Héroique [8:15]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen [5:37]
Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848-1918)
I Was Glad [5:19]
Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988)
Solus ad victimam [4:13]
Jehan ALAIN (1911-1940)
Variations sur un theme de Clément Janequin [5:20]
Samuel Sebastian WESLEY (1810-1876)
Blessed be the God and Father [6:54]
Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848-1918)
Long since in Egypt’s plenteous land [4:13]
John RUTTER (b.1945)
Te Deum [8:00]

The Choir of Eltham College
OSJ Brass
Tim Johnson and Tim Garrard, directors
Henry Fairs, organ
Julian Issa, Matthew Morgan, Anna Simmons, Robbie Jacobs, Lewis Owen and Tim Garrard, soloists.

Recorded at Bromley Parish Church, 17-19 September 2006.

HEARLD HAVPCD 323 [67:07]

The Eltham College Choirs have put together yet another greatest hits sampler from the Anglican Cathedral repertoire and have achieved a mixed success. On the whole, the choir sings with a warm blended tone and with even balance between the sections. But, being a non professional university ensemble, in some repertoire the group’s weaknesses jump out at you.

Karl Jenkins, famous for his “Diamond Music” and “Adiemus” recordings has composed a festive opening motet, written to celebrate the opening of the college’s new music school in 2005. It is obviously an occasional work, and serves the purpose well. We continue with a long set of evergreens that is at times quite lovely and at others rather trying to hear.

Ireland’s Greater Love receives a well paced and finessed performance here with nice solo work by Julian Issa and Matthew Morgan. We hit some trouble in the Fauré Cantique, where the men’s tone is way too strident for the lovely unison passages at the beginning. When we get to the louder four part writing, the tenors stick out with their overheated and white tone color. Stanford’s famous motet Beati quorum via gets a lovely and elegant performance, but for the life of me, I don’t know why choirs of all young singers try to tackle the Brahms Requiem. Wie lieblich is under winded and there is an obvious lack of physical maturity in the sound that serves to only make the listener wonder why this piece was chosen. Parry’s omnipresent I Was Glad is also in need of a more mature sound, especially from the men.

Henry Fairs is an imaginative organist and contributes two fine solos to break up the pine forest. Of particular merit are the Alain Janequin Variations that receive a colorfully registered and rhythmically driving performance.

Kenneth Leighton’s music can be rather stark at times, and the harmonic darkness of Solus ad victimam is brought forth beautifully in this rendition. It is a motet that leaves the listener feeling like he’s just been struck with a hammer and the choir brings out the anguish and pain in the text to a remarkable degree. S. S. Wesley’s Brahms influenced motet Blessed be the God and Father has some touchingly tender moments, but it does tend to run on a bit. In this work I found the choir’s singing to be a bit over bright and too far forward in the mouth. A little more depth and richness, particularly from the men would have been welcome.

The tenderest performance of the whole recital comes in the beautiful hymn setting Long since in Egypt’s plenteous land. The trebles capture a lovely innocence that is touching indeed. The program is rounded out with a successful performance of John Rutter’s well crafted Te Deum.

To sum it up, this is a mixed bag of hits and misses that seems more suited to the souvenir market than international release. Given that there are literally hundreds of superb professional recordings of these standards, I often wonder why university choirs, who have the luxury of vast amounts of regular rehearsal time, do not record more challenging and obscure works. Face it, a disc like this cannot stand against ones by the Cambridge Singers or the Sixteen Choir. Wouldn’t the listeners be better served by an exciting first recording of some fantastic work that might rarely be performed outside of academia? I at least think so.


Anonymous said...

Eltham College Choir is a school choir

Kevin Sutton said...

I am aware of this, however, they released a recording on an internationally distributed label that was circulated for review. That, in my opinion leaves them open to the same standards as professional groups. The King's College Choir is also a school choir...

Anonymous said...