Like as the Hart
A collection of settings of Psalm 42 in various translations curated by Catherine Alette Clover, author of New College-themed novel The Templar’s Garden – not quite the return to this choir’s vital and significant recording work (Bach, Pergolesi, Ludford, Blow) that I so sorely missed reviewing their ‘favourite anthems’ disc (8/17) but hey, you can’t win them all …
What you do get here is further evidence, as on the previous issue, of the choir’s tightening blend and discipline under Robert Quinney, but also the concurrent preservation of its stringy, soloistic tone. That’s why New College Choir has always suited Baroque music best and that’s why the most successful pieces here are Handel’s As pants the hart (variegated, full of expression, impressively taken solos, no sanded edges), Buxtehude’s Quemadmodum desiderat cervus (ditto, but Baroque strings or bows would have been nice) and Schütz’s setting of the same text. If Quinney were to tame his soloists’ tendencies to slightly overblow blossoming phrases and sustained notes, a Schütz recording from his choir could be fascinating.
He can control it, and so can they – as witness, in a different aesthetic, Howells’s Like as the hart. The piece is sung brashly by the best choirs around. Quinney and his singers lend it the appropriate Fauré-like restraint, organist Joseph Laming shifts the colours deliciously on New College’s clattering box of whistles without drawing attention to the fact, and the result is pure balm. Alexander L’Estrange’s newly commissioned As the chased hart sounds like a bad pastiche of Howells improvised by an inebriated barbershop quartet. Antony Pitts’s strophic Why restless, why cast down? is a fascinating neo-hymnic Rubik’s cube of a piece, though it needs a more confident and shaded performance than it gets here.