Timothy Storey
Cathedral Music
November 2015

My initial reaction to this CD was one of surprise that until now no one had come up with such a splendid idea. Many of us will have heard of much of this music but never actually listened to it; now is our chance! The net has been cast wide to include works which celebrate music in general in addition to those addressed to its patron saint; in the former category one would place most of the works herein included, be they sacred or secular. Special mention must be made of Elgar’s There is sweet music, his ingenious choral test-piece in which the lower voices sing in G major while the upper voices sing in A flat. It works! Then there is La musique, specially conceived by Gabriel Jackson as a showpiece for the voice of Felicity Lott who studied Modern Languages at Royal Holloway and of whom the college is quite justly proud; she sings (most wonderfully) in French while the choir offers a kind of simultaneous translation. The other commissioned work recorded here is Cecilia virgo, James MacMillan’s setting for unaccompanied double choir of a 16th-century prayer to the saint, a sparkling opening to a very fine programme; Cecilia is very definitely and directly addressed here as in Bernard Rose’s lovely Feast-Song and in the warm and friendly Hymn by Herbert Howells. I am never sure who is being addressed in Britten’s magical setting, which is certainly not church music, though some folk will insist on singing it as an anthem. The choir and organists are very much at home in this wide mixture of styles, and the performances are never less than excellent; I just wish these talented young singers would throw caution to the winds sometimes and sing with a little more freedom. For example, the opening of the Britten is somewhat earthbound, and surely more could have been made of the passage near the end where the singers are required to imitate various instruments; is it also too mischievous to suggest that vibrato is impossible on the open strings of a violin? Despite such very minor quibbles I regard this as a recording of the greatest interest and significance, a ‘must’ for any serious enthusiast.