Saturday, 10 November 2018

In Remembrance - choral discs commemorating the centenary of the Armistice

In Remembrance - Royal Hospital Chelsea - SOMM
For The Fallen, Lest We Forget, In Remembrance; The Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea/William Vann, The Choir of Chichester Cathedral/Charles Harrison, Pegasus/Matthew Althm; SOMM, SIGNUM Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 November 2018
Three imaginative programmes of choral music commemorating the centenary of the Armistice

The centenary of the Armistice has inevitably called forth musical responses, and the centenary of Hubert Parry's death has meant that that composer's work features heavily. If we move away from recordings of Parry's Songs of Farewell, then choirs have given some interestingly imaginative ideas on disc. 

In Remembrance on SOMM sees William Vann and the Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea combining a chamber version of Faure's Requiem with a programme of anthems by Ireland, Parry, Guest, Harris, Holst, Stanford and a new piece by Ian Venables. On Signum Classics there are programmes from both Chichester Cathedral and Pegasus. Charles Harrison and the choir of Chichester Cathedral in Lest we Forget give us a programme of British music from the period with anthems by Stanford, Bainton, Parry, Ireland, Howells, Scholefield, Elgar, Holst and Peter Aston, whilst the choir Pegasus, conductor Matthew Altham, casts its net across the combatants, so as well as Douglas Guest, Charles Wood, Walford Davies, Holst, Gurney, Stanford and Dyson, there is Reger, Ravel, Rachmaninov, and Clytus Gottwald's arrangement of Mahler.

Lest We Forget - Chichester Cathedral Choir - Signum
William Vann and the Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, bring two secret weapons into play on their disc In Remembrance. Firstly they are joined by a choir of Chelsea Pensioners for three hymns (albeit ones of distinguished pedigree), Parry's Jerusalem, Charles Harris' O Valiant Hearts and I Vow to Thee, My Country which is adapted from a melody by Gustav Holst (who hated the hymn!). This gives the music a real presence that simply having it sung by a choir never has and does lift the programme. The other secret weapon is Iain Farrington who has done new versions of Gustav Holst's Ode to Death  and Faure's Requiem. Holst's Walt Whitman setting was very much his response to the First War (in which he served), and it is good to see this large scale and sophisticated work being performed and Farrington's imaginative re-working of the orchestral score for organ should win it many devotees, especially in this fine performance. Why another new version of Faure you ask yourself, well Farrington has arranged Faure's orchestral score for organ, rather than simply relying on the hack piano reduction from the vocal score. Vann and his forces take advantage of the smaller scale to give a reading of concentrated intimacy.

For the Fallen - Pegasus - Signum ClassicsOver at Chichester, Charles Harrison and his choir give us a programme of music by British composers who lived through the war, with the addition of an anthem by Peter Aston (1938-2013). The disc commemorates the choristers who died in the First World War. The whole disc is released in support of the charity Combat Stress, which was set up at the end of the First World War to support the mental health of those who were affected by conflict. They open their disc with a terrific account of Stanford's For lo, I raise up, a remarkably direct response to the war with a setting of a vivid text from Habbakuk which receives a virtuoso performance. Later on the disc Harrison gives us a movement from Stanford's Sonata No. 2 'Eroica' which was dedicated to Widor. Also on the disc is Parry's Tennyson setting, Crossing the Bar, and There is an old belief from Songs of Farewell; Stanford and Parry's problem was, of course, that their music was rooted in the culture of Germany and the war hit them in multiple ways, both culturally as well as the loss of so many of their students.

It says much for Parry and Stanford's teaching that they raised generations of composers who clearly identified as British without the link to German culture. On the disc we have Bainton, Ireland, and Holst, alongside the older generation, Clement C Scholefield and Edward Elgar. The programme mixes the well known and the lesser known, anthems, hymns and more, and ends with Howell's Te Deum.

Chichester Chorister Memorial 1914-19
Chichester Chorister Memorial 1914-19
Under conductor Matthew Altham, Pegasus choir eschews the nationalist route and also avoids hymns, instead giving us a thoughtful programme of music from across the Continent by composers who lived through the First War, with the exception of Gustav Mahler. The disc opens with a profoundly concentrated and intimate performance of For the Fallen  by Douglas Guest (1916-1996), and throughout the programme it is the sense of intimacy and concentration which strikes. The material is largely unusual, taking in Max Reger's surprisingly simple Nachtlied, Ravel's strikingly austere and elegant Trois beaux osiseau du Paradis, Walford Davies' A Short Requiem which was published in 1915. The movements from Rachmaninov's All Night Vigil are the best known pieces on the disc, but these too date from 1915. There are two Gurney pieces, choral music from a composer best known for his songs, and again Stanford's For Lo! I raise Up, and an anthem by George Dyson who served in the war and was sent home with shell-shock. The last item is one of Clytus Gottwald's virtuoso arrangements, of Mahler's Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommon.

In Remembrance - Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, William Vann, Katy Hill (soprano), Leah Jackson (soprano), Gareth Brynmor John (baritone), James Orford (organ), Hugh Rowlands (organ) - available from Amazon
Lest We Forget - The Choir of Chichester Cathedral, Charles Harrison (conductor & organ), Timothy Ravalde (organ) - available from Amazon
For The Fallen - Pegasus, Matthew Altham (director) - available from Amazon and from Presto Classical.

1 comment:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete

Popular Posts this month