EXULTATE DEO, MUSIC INSPIRED BY THE PSALMS OF DAVID
Colm Carey, cond; Andrew Arthur (org); Ch Chapels Royal, Tower of London
LIR 026 (61:21
Text and Translation)
POULENC, PALESTRINA, LEIGHTON, PARRY, PURCELL, MENDELSSOHN, CHILCOTT, WALFORD DAVIES, BYRD, SWEELINCK, RUTTER, HOWELLS
The Tower of London actually contains two chapels, one to St. John the Evangelist and the other the grimly appropriate St. Peter in Chains. They have a mixed professional choir of ten voices (with five more added here) under Colm Carey, which sings here a broad program organized around Psalm texts. All the music, even the Continental motets, is part of the standard English cathedral repertory, with the possible exception of Bob Chilcott’s “My Prayer,” written originally for the Vancouver Chamber Choir.
The joyful opening sequence of Poulenc’s Exultate Deo, Palestrina’s Sicut cervus, and Kenneth Leighton’s Jubilate Deo, closes with Parry’s coronation anthem,
I was glad
. After all the rejoicing, it is a useful programming idea in the middle, then, to build a meditative sequence of Purcell’s short
Hear my prayer
, followed by Mendelssohn’s larger, and strikingly different, setting of a similarly addressed text, and to follow with Chilcott’s fine setting of the same verse Purcell used, as a kind of homage, and as a sort of bookend. The intense chromaticism of Chilcott (and Purcell) is contrasted by Walford Davies’s transparent chant setting of Psalm 121, and the deeply dark Miserere mei by William Byrd. Sweelinck’s Laudate Dominum sets that section into sharp relief, and leads us into John Rutter’s Psalm 23, later used in his Requiem (1985). The program ends with Howells’s Psalm 100, written in 1967 for this choir in its first year.
The choir has a forthright sound and a broad expressive range, which can be difficult for a small ensemble to manage. They are pressed in trying to recreate the massive sonorities required in Parry’s
I was glad
, and are at their best in the quieter passages, as in Parry’s
Lord, let me know mine end
. When a mighty sound is required, it’s there, but it gets shrill and the otherwise admirable blend fractures. It is an endemic problem, however, that the words are hard to distinguish, even though I know them by heart. This is an interesting program, well performed, and serves as a good introduction to some of the mainline pieces in the English church repertory.