<< -- 4 -- Roderic Dunnett TEWKESBURY VARIATIONS
Tewkesbury's Abbey Choir School is one of its greatest and most enduring
assets, and currently it is on stupendous form. Its present director, Benjamin
Nicholas, directs the school's choir in a traditional programme of English Church
music of all eras that reveals a degree of training on a par with the best
cathedral choirs England has to offer.
Ushered in by Etherington's organ lead, the opening bars of 'Blessed City,
Heavenly Salem' yield a finely full-blooded reading, and the substantial but
unfuzzy echo of Tewkesbury Abbey lends it just enough of the feel of York Minster,
which (with Leeds Parish Church, Etherington's old stomping ground)
was first to perform much of Bairstow's church music. The boys have a
tangible and well assimilated continental tone, not without shades of Westminster
Cathedral, and use the super acoustic to advantage. The middle section is
But it's not just the big romantic works (like Bairstow and his younger
contemporary Edgar Bainton, also a composer of oratorios and even operas) that
Tewkesbury can encompass.
Nicholas's sympathetic leadership produces a reading of Tallis's Mihi autem
-- by no means his best known anthem -- that is often enough exemplary
[listen -- REGCD177 track 2, 1:41-2:37] (albeit just
a little slurred in the top line for sixteenth century music), and they handle
leisurely-unfolding multi-part Sheppard nearly as capably -- repertoire that is
fiendishly difficult to sustain (fine altos, with a slight tending to sharpness).
There is something of Magdalen College, Oxford about the Tewkesbury sound (perhaps
underlined by the warm-resonating acoustic, though it also calls for firmer
consonants), and possibly of St George's Windsor or Westminster Abbey also.
Copyright © 24 May 2003
Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK