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.
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 Inclusion of two nice unpublished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
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