Cello Concerto No.1 in A minor (1) Camille Saint-Saens
An uneven collection of choral works.
Composer: Britten, Byrd, Darlington, Gibbons, Goodall, Grier, Handel, Howells, Parsons, Purcell, Rutter, Tallis, Tavener, Taverner, Walton, Warlock and Weelkes
Repertoire: Choral Works
Artist: Renaud Capuçon, Gérard Caussé, Gautier Capuçon, Michel Dalberto, Nicholas Angelich, Quatuor Ebène
Label: Avie AV2215
The Music: All the works have a connection with Christ Church, Oxford’s Cathedral, even if it is only the existence of a manuscript in the library. Walton and Goodall were choristers. Warlock was an undergraduate, as was Auden whose Shepherd’s Carol Britten set. Howells’s Like as the Hart and Tavener’s Lord’s Prayer were composed for the choir. Taverner and Grier were choirmasters; Darlington still is.
The Performance: The boys’ voices are rich and powerful in Taverner’s Christe Jesu: they know an expressive line when they see one. Their heartbreaking simplicity in the seasonal Bethlehem Down shows they understand how to work the crowd at a carol service. Gibbons’s verse anthem Great Lord of Lords is not among his best and the alto and tenor soloists fail to shine. The choir sings Handel’s Zadok the Priest with customary verve but the composer’s organ accompaniment sounds like the cheap alternative it was meant to be. The general parochiality affects Howell’s Like as the Hart which has no edge.
The Verdict: Not all the works have equal merit and even this wonderful choir struggles to justify pitching Rutter against Byrd. Context highlights the weaknesses in works that time has not tested and a mere connection with a great institution, while historically interesting, is not enough.