Sing Levy Dew
In the decade since its foundation, in 2008, the Girls’ Choir of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, have garnered well-deserved plaudits for the conviction, warmth and immaculate control in their singing under their founder, Edward Wickham. All these qualities are present in abundance on this new disc of secular British works for upper voices. Its 36 tracks constitute a veritable box of delights, full of polished gems.
Opening with Jonathan Dove’s three a cappella Emily Dickinson settings of 2006, the 22 singers make light work of any contrapuntal challenges, emphasising the dramatic and ecstatic elements of the poetry. Diction and intonation are exemplary. Frederick Brown joins the choir for Richard Rodney Bennett’s two unison song collections from 40 years earlier, The Insect World and The Aviary, clearly relishing the delicious piano accompaniments. Of the former, ‘Clock-a clay’ stands out, as does ‘The Bird’s Lament’ from the latter. Howard Skempton’s timeless and tireless Five Poems of Mary Webb are a masterclass in triadic writing and should be heard by every serious student of harmony. The balance between the three parts is excellent.
The disc’s premiere recording is of Sally Beamish’s unaccompanied Seven Songs (1990), and in some ways is the toughest music both to sing and to assimilate. The final one of the set, ‘Sunset’, is the most striking. Composed for his brother’s school in Prestatyn, Benjamin Britten’s Friday Afternoons dates from 1933 35 and polishes up as fresh as ever. It is good to hear the oft-sung ‘A New Year Carol’ in its original context and to marvel, once again, at how Britten squeezes out every last drop of compositional technique in ‘Old Abram Brown’. As its haunting refrain concludes the disc, one hopes that this talented group will explore further the riches of the pre-war English repertory.