Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, Volume 6
As this excellent series progresses, we follow these reliable generations of church musicians (which is what most of them are, the presence of Walton and Tippett being exceptions), and recall that composing was a part-time occupation, almost a luxury, in the daily round that normally comprised taking choir practice and playing the organ, giving lessons and conducting the choral society. They also wrote their music within marked limitations: they were to be melodious but not too tuneful, reverent but not sanctimonious, joyous and sorrowful at appropriate times and in moderation, spiritual but (preferably) not embarrassingly mystical. The marvel is that out of this comes music that is so full of life; another, that latent within it is so much sense of drama and so much feeling for the rich emotional implications of sound. It is almost as though within these cathedral organists is an opera composer wanting to get out.
In these present volumes the variety of the settings is another striking feature – Sydney Watson’s setting for trebles only, Harold Darke’s for unaccompanied choir, Dyson’s quietness, Murrill’s love of colour. Almost invariably the individual finds something of his own to add – Robert Ashfield with the imaginative effect of subduing the Magnificat’s “Gloria” to prepare for the mood of the Nunc dimittis, Richard Lloyd reintroducing “My soul doth magnify” at the end of his Magnificat. Hearing again the well-known favourites (Walmisley in D minor, Harwood in A flat), one appreciates exactly why they have so established themselves, just as in Stanford in F (not among his most familiar settings) we see the hand of the master. We also watch ‘modernity’ cautiously advancing – in Stanley Vann’s fine Hereford Service, for instance, and, in Murrill’s “glory of thy people Israel”, a little touch of
Then of course there are the virtuoso pieces by Walton and Tippett, valiantly (and very well) undertaken by the Rochester choir. Their mellow tone is perhaps heard to better advantage in gentler music (the Tippett calls for a brighter edge and the Walton for more sheer body), but it is remarkable that such a challenging idiom can be so confidently mastered. Hereford Cathedral are admirable throughout, and benefit from the rather clearer quality of recorded sound. Both are fine recitals and valuable additions to the series.'