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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67497
Recording details: January 2007
St John's College Chapel, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: July 2007
Total duration: 2 minutes 23 seconds

'An excellent disc in regard both to the standard of performance and to the selection of Bairstow's music. And to that should be added straight away the quality of recorded sound … the recommendation for this new issue is confirmed most decisively by the inclusion of the Five Poems of the Spirit … Roderick Williams is the ideally suited soloist and the Britten Sinfonia do justice to a delightful score' (Gramophone)

'His anthems and services … are treasured within the church. Their touch is sure, and their word-setting is impeccable … Bairstow could hardly have finer advocates than David Hill's St John's Choir, beautiful in tone and balance, admirable clear in enunciation, well supported by rhythmic organ playing, and outstandingly well recorded' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Sung with real conviction by the Choir of St John's College, Cambridge' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Bairstow was several notches above the typical organ loft composer. His best work shows a keen sense of drama and a secure grasp of musical architecture … his music has a warmth and grandeur that continues the best of the great tradition of English cathedral music … the performances here are first rate … the present recording amply demonstrates that St John's has one of the finest choirs in England. In addition, the quality of the recorded sound is delightful. It is a spacious and sumptuous sound with good presences. The Hyperion engineers manage again and again to find the formula that seems to elude so many others' (American Record Guide)

'Having praised David Hill and the Choir of St John's College, Cambridge in April 2007 for their disc of works by Jongen and Peeters, I find it a pleasure to give an emphatic nod to this new release as well … the choir's intense sound is spot-on for this repertoire; no doubt Bairstow himself would have approved' (International Record Review)

'This disc brings a most welcome surprise, the rarely heard late set for baritone, choir, and orchestra, Five Poems of the Spirit (1944). Written during the dark days of the war, these radiate the assurance we also hear in Vaughan Williams' Five Mystical Songs … Roderick Williams sings the generous baritone solos clearly and with conviction and the Britten Sinfonia provides a solid support' (Fanfare, USA)

'The very first track on the disc for instance, 'Jesu, the very thought of thee' is quite beautifully written. The choice and use of texts was of paramount importance to Bairstow and he sets these with great care … 'Blessed city' is on a grander scale and has real passion … most surprising of all is the sheer harmonic austerity. To those expecting tedious old Anglican Church music: think again! … the real revelation is Five Poems of the Spirit … these are perhaps a close relation of the Five Mystical Songs of Vaughan Williams and inhabit the same sort of rather reflective, and, yes, mystical soundworld, setting texts by the Metaphysical Poets Richard Crashaw and George Herbert as well as a beautiful poem by Sir Walter Raleigh, 'Purse and Scrip'. Bairstow responds to this with music that is confident, bracing, imaginative, and, at times, quite magical … the wistful ending of the last setting makes one regret all the more that Bairstow didn't spend more time or have the confidence to set his mind to these larger projects. Anyone who loves English choral music will respond positively to every moment of these settings. As for the performances—the ever-reliable and versatile Roderick Williams is as eloquent as always and the Choir makes some wonderful sounds—the entry in the fourth part of Poems of the Spirit is alone worth the price of the CD alone. Warmly and enthusiastically recommended' (ClassicalSource.com)

Five Poems of the Spirit
composer
1944

Introduction
The Five Poems of the Spirit were completed in 1944. In a letter to Dr Francis Jackson dated 17 August 1943 Bairstow writes that ‘the Dean has chosen a set of religious poems which he wants me to set en suite for solo and chorus’. Later he writes that ‘I have been working at “Six Songs of the Spirit” … I have set them for Baritone Solo and chorus. One has women’s chorus, one none at all, one is all chorus and two are mixed. I sweated at them to get them out in my 70th year, but alas! No publisher will take things on that scale now.’ With the assistance of Sir Ernest Bullock, who orchestrated the last three movements, they were published eight years after Bairstow’s death. It was Bullock who felt that a setting of Francis Thompson’s poem The Veteran of Heaven should not be included because he considered the words, written more than two hundred years after the other poems, to be incompatible with the rest of the work. The first performance of the Five Poems was given by the York Musical Society in York Minster on 9 November 1955.

Come, lovely Name has a gentle and flowing accompaniment and is for upper voices and soloist. There are moments where the composer uses melodies and harmonies based on the whole tone scale. O Lord, in me there lieth naught, a paraphrase of Psalm 139, is for soloist only. The music is thoughtful and pensive. Praise, the third movement, is for chorus alone and has a fine sense of energy and forward movement. The fourth, Purse and Scrip, begins with a wistful and atmospheric chordal accompaniment, possibly suggesting the weary tread of a traveller. The melodic lines of the soloist are full of invention, and contain a rare and remarkable melisma on the word ‘glory’. The chorus enters only towards the end of the movement and the music subsides to a quiet and reflective close. The final movement, L’Envoy, is also contemplative in nature with memorable use of the chords of G and B flat major in close proximity. The accompaniment contains plangent and wistful melodies and the work finishes on a D that fades almost to nothing.

from notes by Philip Moore 2007

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