Recording reviews

Recommended recording: Hail, gladdening Light

Originally released in 1991, this collection of 23 short pieces is sub-titled “Music of the English Church,” as the pieces have become standards in the choral repertoire within the Anglican tradition. Some of the pieces, however, were originally written for use in the Roman Catholic rite, some for use in a domestic setting (back in the good old days when people gathered to sing multi-part music together rather than watch TV).

The performers are the reliable Cambridge Singers, a choir of 28 or so voices assembled by conductor/composer John Rutter from former members of the many Cambridge chapel choirs. The composers represented date from the early 16th century (John Taverner, c.1490-1545) to the late 20th century (John Tavener, note the different spelling, 1944-2013).

At least five of the pieces in this collection are part of the All Saints choir repertoire, including Charles Villiers Stanford’s Justorum animae  (which our choir sang on All Saints Day) and John Sheppard’s haunting In manus tuas, which we have sung more than once on Passion Sunday. Two others are pieces we’ve begun learning but aren’t ready to present publicly yet.

Among my favorite works in this anthology, in addition to the Stanford piece, are Henry Purcell’s wrenching Remember not, Lord, our offenses (which we have sung), Thomas Tallis’s In nata lux (which we’re working on), and Ralph Vaughan Williams’s O vos omnes (which we probably can’t pull off). Rutter’s own composition (Loving Shepherd of the sheep) displays the distinctive Rutter sound, which is, I’m afraid, a bit too sweet. It’s not that I don’t like it, but I find myself liking it more than I should.

The recording was made in the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral, and the spaciousness of the site is evident in the rich reverberation. Most of these works were written with such acoustics in mind, but it’s sometimes tempting to get lost in the luscious sound and ignore the compositional achievements of these gifted composers, i.e., artists who had gifts and are gifts.


A selection from this recording
Come, let’s rejoice, by John Amner (1579-1641)