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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.

Benjamin Nicholas
Benjamin Nicholas

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 quite superb.

Heaven Sent. © 2003 Regent Records

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 nimis -- 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.

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Copyright © 24 May 2003 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK


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