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Track(s) taken from CDA67497

Lord, thou hast been our refuge

1916; published 1917
author of text
Psalms 90: 1, 2; 144: 3, 4; 102: 12; 90: 15

St John's College Choir Cambridge, David Hill (conductor), Paul Provost (organ)
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: 7 minutes 59 seconds

Other recordings available for download

St Paul's Cathedral Choir, John Scott (conductor), Huw Williams (organ)


'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)
After a spell teaching in Windsor Sir Edward Bairstow (1874–1946) was articled to Sir Frederick Bridge at Westminster Abbey 1893, where he stayed for six years as pupil and amanuensis. He also held an appointment as Organist and Choirmaster at All Saints’, Norfolk Square, in London until 1899 when he went to Lancashire to take up the post of Organist at Wigan Parish Church. In 1906 he moved to Leeds Parish Church and was appointed Organist of York Minster in 1913, a post he held until his death in 1946. He took the Doctorate of Music examinations at the University of Durham in 1902 and became Professor of Music there in 1929. This did not necessitate a move from York to Durham, for he was only required to give one lecture each year in order to fulfil his commitment.

Scarcely a month in the life of any choral foundation will go by without Bairstow’s music appearing on the music lists. He seems able to create an atmosphere in his music and to evoke the great spaces of a cathedral by dramatic or intimate musical gestures that reflect the detailed attention he paid to the text he was working on. This contrasts well with the work of Stanford who frequently produces a straightforward musical structure and a singable tune that one could whistle on the way home. Bairstow, by contrast, is interested in the relation­ship of the organ part to the choral parts, building great climaxes in the music and contrasting them with simple yet dramatic ideas. The technical construction of the work is subservient to the music which often feels as if it is almost continuously unfolding on a vast canvas. His approach is scholarly and meticulous, showing the influence of Bach and Brahms.

The anthem Lord, thou hast been our refuge was commissioned for the 263rd Festival of the Sons of the Clergy in 1917, held at St Paul’s Cathedral—indeed, some of the cathedral choir’s scores even to this day are marked ‘Proof copy—Private’ and contain some minor textual differences to the published edition. Dr Francis Jackson OBE in his book Blessed City, The Life and Works of Edward C Bairstow (Sessions, York, 1996) describes the anthem as follows:

It has accompaniment for full orchestra and is one of his biggest anthems, full of melody, colourful harmony and dramatic treatment of the words, especially at ‘Man is like a thing of nought: his time passeth away like a shadow’, the last word uttered in a breathy whisper. Some say it is over-sentimental or too pompous; others, that it is nothing more or less than a very imaginative account of these words from Psalm 90. It is the high point, the apotheosis and summation of an Edwardian composer writing in the darkest days of war-torn Britain.

from notes by William McVicker 1999

Other albums featuring this work

The English Anthem, Vol. 7
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