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Praise my soul

Favourite hymns from Jesus College Cambridge
Jesus College Choir Cambridge, Richard Pinel (conductor) Detailed performer information
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Label: Signum Classics
Recording details: January 2018
Chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Produced by Chris Hazell
Engineered by Mike Hatch & Robin Hawkins
Release date: October 2018
Total duration: 66 minutes 30 seconds

Subtitled 'Favourite hymns from Jesus College Cambridge', this programme celebrates the rich and living tradition of hymnody through the exalted voices of the college's two chapel choirs and the thunderous voicings of the 2007 Kuhn organ.

Whether through words or simple sounds, the voice has a unique power to arouse or express the most visceral of emotions. One need only think of the great orators of our time and their ability to persuade and focus a crowd of thousands, or indeed to stir them up into fervent frenzy. Likewise, a singer can express or communicate the gamut of human feeling through only the inflection of their voice, regardless of linguistic understanding. It is therefore no surprise that many of the world’s religions have caused rich and diverse collections of music to be composed; indeed some of the most cherished musical works of art stem from the expression of religious devotion.

In the Christian Church, these great musical masterpieces are sung by choirs in Cathedrals, Churches and Chapels on a daily basis and their unique contribution to the liturgy has caused the Anglican Choral Tradition to be revered the world over. However, for many, it is the joining together of the voices of choirs and congregations in glorious hymnody that forms the backbone of Christian worship. Hymns are intended for all, and are not the domain of only the most highly trained choirs.

Hymns are a living link with the past, yet they still find freshness and relevance in the twenty-first century. Saint Thomas Aquinas comments that ‘hymns are the praise of God with song; a song is the exultation of the mind dwelling on eternal things, bursting forth in the voice’ (‘Hymnus est laus Dei cum cantico; canticum autem exultatio mentis de aeternis habita, prorumpens in vocem’. Reilly, F.F., trans., with some revision by Joseph Kenny. Thomas Aquinas: Commentary of the Psalms of David. E-text, dhspriory.org/thomas/PsalmsAquinas) and this explains neatly the vital place that hymnody has enjoyed throughout the ages, and continues to do so today.

Praise my soul celebrates this glorious tradition of hymnody and showcases some of the hymns heard in Jesus College Chapel in our own regular pattern of choral services. Some of these, including Drop, drop, slow tears and Glory to thee, my God, this night have been sung regularly for hundreds of years. Others such as All my hope on God is founded or Christ Triumphant have become classics over the last half-century. In some cases, well-known texts have found fresh expression through newer melodies, as is the case with Maurice Bevan’s setting of There’s a wideness in God’s mercy. The reverse is true in the use of Beethoven’s 'Ode to Joy' for Henry van Dyke’s Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee. The art of hymnody is very much alive today and new hymns are being composed all of the time. At less than a decade old, we need look no further than How shall we sing salvation’s song? for a splendid example of this. Collectively these hymns, and many others, encapsulate the very essence of the worship that has taken place in Jesus College Chapel for centuries.

Outside of the church, many hymns have transcended their religious content to find a place in the very soul of the nation—indeed Dame Vera Lynn performed and recorded Abide with me in her contribution to the war effort of the Second World War. On a more personal level, significant events in many people’s lives have been punctuated by the singing of hymns, whether they be nostalgic school events, joyful weddings or sombre funerals.

The hymns heard on Praise my soul have been arranged in a number of different ways. We hear solo voices, sometimes alone and sometimes accompanied by the choir, a cappella. Tallis’ Canon is heard sung as a canon (or ‘round’) as the composer originally intended. Elsewhere, the voices of the trebles, sopranos and altos combine in beguiling harmony in verses where lighter or more tender sentiments need expression. Other verses are illuminated by the richness of the tenors and basses in unison or warm harmony. Several of the grander hymns on this CD feature descants, or counter-melodies, in the final verses. These adorn the unison singing of the lower voices with richer harmonies designed to enhance the overall sentiment of the music and words. Underpinning all of this is Jesus College’s fine Hudleston Organ, built by Orgelbau Kuhn of Switzerland in 2007. Its rich sonorities, thundering bass notes and glittering upper-work are contrasted by the most soft and gentle of timbres and elevate the sound of the choir to another level.

However you engage with hymnody in general, we hope that in listening to the better-known items on this recording you are transported to a place and time that is sacred to you. Through the less familiar tracks we hope that your appreciation of this unique genre is enriched. Overall we hope that the essence of Jesus College Chapel, the beating heart of a diverse and forward-looking institution, invigorates and uplifts your spirit as it has done for countless others over the course of its long history.

In the words of hymnodist, Michael Saward:

So, our hearts and voices raising
through the ages long,
ceaselessly upon you gazing,
this shall be our song:
yours the glory and the crown,
the high renown, the eternal name.

Richard Pinel © 2018

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