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The quest for noble hymn tunes


Hyperion  CDP12101

Record Box


There is an odd discrepancy between the ratio of declining church attendance and the growing number of CDs of church and organ music reaching the record shops. In some cases we could say that a record turns out a sorry mess and who could possibly take pleasure in listening? If reports are not exaggerated, the sloppy ones also make a profit. Heavens alive.

The English Hymn - 1. Copyright (c) 1999 Hyperion Records Ltd.Hyperion has now released the first of a series devoted to Great Hymns of the Twentieth Century. This is no cosy group of amateurs singing their socks off. Instead, we experience the voices of boys and men in the Wells Cathedral choir directed by Malcolm Archer, with Rupert Gough at the organ. Much of the singing is unison for boys and men in alternation, a few descants, a scattering of SATB verses, and some rousing verses surfing on the organist's tidal wave of colouristic harmony.

Truly great tunes are precious few, so admittance, perforce, has been given to hymns the next rung down the ladder. Inclusion of two nice unpublished tunes from Malcolm Archer and Barry Ferguson [click to listen] can hardly claim greatness without a track record. When the time comes for a compilation of great hymns of the 21st century they will need to jostle for position and the favour of those yet unborn.

Vaughan Williams' Sine nomine holds a privileged position in the quality stakes, possibly challenged by his Down Ampney [click to listen]. Holst's Thaxted is a contender, and likewise Taylor's Abbots Leigh. All three are here together with Howells' stirring Michael [click to listen], but that's enough in-talk from a lapsed church musician.

There is an almost transcendental quality enshrined in a few 20th century tunes, but in a much smaller number than the real age of Faith, when such as Luther were writing tunes to uplift the faithful. Will it return?


Copyright © Basil Ramsey, December 8th 1999 




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Record Box is Music & Vision's regular Wednesday series of shorter CD reviews