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They include two movements (the 'Gloria' and 'Agnus Dei') from Paul Stubbing's Missa Stella Splendens [listen -- track 6, 0:03-1:02]. Stubbings is a previous Master of the Music and Missa Stella Splendens is a festal congregational communion setting. He gives the congregation plainchant-based responses which are interspersed with more elaborate unaccompanied verses. The result is a fascinating solution to the problem of congregational involvement and the choir sing the verses in a fine, subtle manner. But the repetition of the refrains rather means that the end result is a little four square and of limited interest to those who do not have some sort of emotional link to St Martin's or its choir.

They include two Psalms done in traditional Anglican fashion. Psalm 137 uses a chant by Nicholas Danks, the current Director of Music. This opens strikingly with the high voices singing unaccompanied in unison. The other chant, Psalm 90, is in a more traditional form with choir and organ, by Robert Walker, but still in a striking modern musical idiom. The choir sing both of these in a natural and unforced manner. Their presence on the disc is very welcome, but it would have been nice to have had an Evensong sequence mixing the Psalms with canticle settings such as Cecilia McDowall's St Martin's Magnificat, which unaccountably sits at the opposite end of the disc.

Here we come to my main problem with this disc, the arrangement of the items. The recital begins in fine fashion with Handel's The King Shall Rejoice [listen -- track 1, 1:16-2:46], but follows on with a recital which seems to be designed to give maximum contrast between a rather disparate group of pieces (some seventeen in all). Choir member Annalise Roy's very English arrangement of the Spiritual Were you there when they crucified my Lord, is rather attractive, if a little over long. But it sits amongst the lovely rich sound of Tallis's Loquebantur variis linguis, Vaughan Williams's Psalm 23, Stanford's Caelos Ascendit Hodie and Richard Peat's An Intimation. This last being a powerful and dissonant piece by another member of the choir.

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Copyright © 5 September 2004 Robert Hugill, London UK


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