In the centenary of the end of the First World War, this recording features a variety of vocal works written before, during and after the war, all of which, in some way, bear the badge of courage, sacrifice and loss, and equally that sense of trauma and catharsis which Britain had to bear in the years immediately after the conflict. As a chorister in the 1960s I can still remember the lines of the British Legion who would parade up to the village church and the war memorial to hear the names of the dead read out. My memories of those chilly, solemn November Sunday mornings are still vivid. They were occasions charged with deep emotion and remembrance which the music of this CD animates only too readily.
The sounds of Parry’s Jerusalem (written after all for the Fight for Right movement in 1916 to counter German propaganda and to bolster national morale), Charles Harris’s O valiant hearts and Gustav Holst’s setting of Cecil Spring Rice’s ‘I vow to thee my country’ are almost unbearably moving. Directed by William Vann, the Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, with its clear, ringing tone, provides beautifully nuanced performances, especially of the a cappella items, Stanford’s numinous introit Justorum animae, Parry’s six-part ‘There is an old belief’ (written during the early part of the war) and Elgar’s elegiac They are at rest. And no recording of this repertoire would be complete without reference to Laurence Binyon’s immutable words ‘For the Fallen’, sung here in a setting by Douglas Guest, onetime organist of Westminster Abbey and who fought in the Royal Artillery during the Second World War. John Ireland’s Greater love hath no man is sung with stirring commitment. Written in 1912, the anthem soon found itself expressing so many public sentiments of the war after the horrifying list of casualties was published from day to day; it received many performances. Holst’s fine Ode to Death, composed in 1919 and here performed in an arrangement for choir and organ by Iain Farrington, is a powerful elegy written in memory of his friend Cecil Coles, who was killed during the German Army’s last major offensive in 1918. It shares serene moments of painful poignancy with Fauré’s Requiem (again in Farrington’s attractive arrangement), a work which focuses not on judgement but on eternal rest and notions of paradise. The juxtaposition with Ian Venables’s contemporary (rather Howellsian) setting of Requiem aeternam (2017) is therefore a fitting one.