English Hymn Anthems
I suppose there must be choirs of equal merit to King’s College but none has the unassailable advantage of making their music in one of the world’s greatest buildings. The airy acoustic of the Chapel coupled with the fine Harrison & Harrison (mostly) organ help to define a peculiarly and uniquely English sound. These are especially suited to the repertoire on this fine disc, a collection of hymn anthems from 1890 to the 1930s, most of them owing their materials to Hymns Ancient and Modern. The first of these (also the longest at 14'42") is Parry’s Hear my words, ye people, which uses passages from Job, Isaiah and the Psalms, including a brief but tricky treble solo (Tom Pickard with a voice of angelic purity), before culminating in a magnificent setting of ‘O praise ye the Lord’ (Henry Baker’s tune Laudate Dominum).
Parry’s work sets the tone for the whole disc, the techniques and colours exploited by Stanford, Bairstow, Whitlock and the other composers having much in common. The exception is the final piece, Vaughan Williams’s Lord, thou hast been our refuge, a setting of Psalm 90 against which is heard ‘O God, our help in ages past’ (William Croft’s St Anne) played on the trumpet, in this case by no less than Alison Balsom.
Douglas Tang and Parker Ramsay share accompanist duties at the tribune, while Stephen Cleobury leaves ground level for the organ bench, perched high above the choir, to give us two hymn-based solos by Parry and Vaughan Williams. The exemplary booklet by Nicholas Temperley (King’s, 1952 59) offers a concise history of the English hymn anthem with background information and clear route maps for each of the 10 anthems, the texts of which are also provided. This is King’s playing to its considerable strengths at all levels.