Steal Away: Spirituals and Gospel Songs

Author: 
Peter Dickinson

Steal Away: Spirituals and Gospel Songs

  • Oh, what a beautiful city
  • Sometimes I feel like a motherless chile
  • True religion
  • I wanna be ready
  • Nobody knows de trouble I've seen
  • Walk with me
  • I couldn't hear nobody pray
  • Let my people go
  • Steal away to Jesus
  • 'Tis me, O Lord
  • By and by
  • Gospel train
  • Good News
  • Ride on, King Jesus
  • Honor, Honor
  • Dark water
  • Listen to the lambs

Many will remember the powerful impact made by the London Adventist Chorale, directed by Ken Burton, at the Proms last year and before that their popular CD on Paradisum. The members of the choir are taken from Seventh Day Adventist churches around London. These are actual church choirs and they believe in what they are singing: this message really comes across.
When covering the first volume of the Plymouth Music series called “Witness” (Collins Classics, 9/95), I mentioned the high quality of arrangements of spirituals made by the African-American singer-composer-arranger Harry T. Burleigh, so I was delighted to find seven of his piano settings here. Ruby Philogene, already on CD in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Philips, 12/96), is a real discovery. She has exactly the right emotional quality to suit all the moods of these eloquent songs and dares to take Nobody knows and Steal away very slowly indeed. Sometimes she embellishes Burleigh’s line, always in style, and Burton brings the chorus unobtrusively into the refrains of Steal away with magical effect. (Philogene’s opening consonant at 0'20'' seems to have got lost in an edit.)
There are other period arrangements by Hall Johnson and Nathaniel Dett, not quite on the level of Burleigh’s, whose settings are worth a whole CD on their own – Philogene would be ideal. Then there are Burton’s own arrangements to show that the London Adventist Chorale is part of a continuing tradition in spirituals and gospel. The Ladies Quartet has some fine voices and, with Burton fulsome at the piano, a swinging sense of rhythm.
Well recorded here, although the piano is sometimes favoured in balance, this is the ideal group for this repertoire. It is an enterprising choice for the EMI Debut series and, outstanding in every way, deserves to reach and touch a very large audience. It could and should become a cult CD, like “Canto Gregoriano” or Gorecki’s Third Symphony.'

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