As can be expected from Hyperion the recording is first class. Engineer David Hinitt and producer Adrian Peacock have successfully captured the rich acoustics and yet achieved a clear reproduction of the voices and the mighty organ. Anyone who has ever been in Westminster Abbey should be overwhelmed by the lifelike sound picture. The generous programme is also finely contrasted, which means that one can without problems enjoy the disc in one sitting. The quality of the singing is on a high level and Robert Quinney negotiates the organ accompaniments excellently. I could actually stop there since I have no objections to anything about the disc. Initially I had some qualms concerning some seemingly slow tempos but checking against some other recordings this seemed more like an illusion, possibly due to the generous acoustics. What is more interesting is to note how many of these hymns have been performed at official events in the Abbey through the years. Let me pick a few.
Ever since the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, Ralph Vaughan Williams’ setting of The Old Hundredth (track 1) has been sung on many such occasions, including at the composer’s own funeral.
On 20 November 1947 Praise, my soul, (track 2) was broadcast to 200 million people at the wedding of the Queen to be and the Duke of Edinburgh. The Lord’s my shepherd (track 3) was also heard in this version at the marriage of the Queen.
The well-known Love divine (track 4) 'was heard by the largest television audience in history, nearly two billion people, at the wedding of' the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in the Abbey in April 2011. James O’Donnell’s arrangement was made specifically for that occasion. Also Guide me, O thou great redeemer (track 5) was sung on that occasion with O’Donnell’s arrangement of the third verse for double choir. Before that the hymn was sung at the funeral of the Queen Mother in 2002 and for Diana’s funeral in 1997.
Christ is made the sure foundation (track 7), the melody of which was composed by Henry Purcell while he was organist of Westminster Abbey. The hymn was performed at Princess Margaret’s wedding to Anthony Armstrong-Jones in 1960 and when Pope Benedict XVI visited the Abbey in 2010.
This and a lot more can be learnt from the illuminating notes by The Revd Dr James Hawkey: a true history of Royal and other events in Westminster Abbey. What counts more than that is the power of the music and the texts and this is something that can be experienced time and again through this enlightening disc.
A final comment: the last hymn, And did those feet in ancient time (text: William Blake) is better known as Jerusalem in Hubert Parry’s setting written in 1916, well-known to millions through the inclusion in the last night of the Proms. It makes for a powerful and gripping conclusion to this programme.