St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music, reposed in martyrdom around the year 230 AD. By all accounts she was an honest and hard-working person, generous to a fault. She was betrothed to a pagan, Valerian, who converted to Christianity by her prayers, according to most hagiographic lives. Though we cannot be sure that everything connected with these accounts is factual, the main outlines are well-attested, and in fact her relics were transferred in 821. So it is a bit of a surprise when I read in the notes to this release that historians now believe “that Cecilia may be just a mythical figure”.
But the idea of a patroness of music is most certainly a later accretion based on the idea that she “sang unto the Lord on her wedding day”, but not a bad one; many saints have had musical connections, but few as revered, at least in the west, as Cecilia (Romanos the Melodist and the nun Cassiane compete in the east). It should come as an obvious and indeed inevitable occurrence that many albums are thematically attached to her name. This one, under the expert guidance of Rupert Gough, concentrates on British music from the present and last centuries. Britten’s Hymn has to be the first which really set the Cecilian sails moving, still one of the best to be heard, and very often performed. But Macmillan and Jackson both have newer and quite worthy things to say in music of radiance and ethereality. In fact there are no bad apples on this album, and each piece is given a performance of the highest caliber in readings of succinct and well-shaped formal qualities. The aural ambiance is just fine, thank you, the student choral scholars relish the atmosphere provided by Rochester Cathedral and All Hallows, Gospel Oak in London. A very nice recording.