This new release from Signum Classics follows a particular theme: evening reflections. Every piece on the CD has something to say about the evening, night time, sleeping or rest. They were written for the Anglican service of Evensong, which combines elements of text and liturgy from Vespers and Compline. These two services were (and still are) sung in monasteries. However, in the 16th century, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was tasked with creating services that could be used in parish churches for the general population. The result was, among others, Evensong. The words and order of service were formalised in the Book of Common Prayer in 1662, and have remained largely unchanged ever since.
This new CD from The Choir of Jesus College Cambridge (of which, incidentally, Thomas Cranmer was an alumnus), is a beautiful demonstration of how the music written for this service in the 16th century remains as powerful and applicable as that written more recently in the 20th century. If anything could show the continuity of Evensong through more than four centuries, then it is this CD, with its remarkable blend of ancient and modern classics.
Perhaps the most iconic examples for the 16th century on the CD are Christe qui lux es et dies IV and Miserere nostril by Thomas Tallis. The first piece clearly reflects the monastic roots of Evensong in making use of a plainchant setting. The second is an extraordinary seven-part canon with an extremely rich and complex texture. In both cases, the Latin texts are sung with an impressive clarity of diction that underlines the character and depth of music that is already stunningly beautiful.
The 20th century choices are no less expertly performed, with the trebles standing out in particular as they soar effortlessly above the men’s voices; it’s hard not to at least try and sing along in places! Listen, for example, to what is surely a ‘show piece’ for the trebles, The Lord is my Shepherd by Lennox Berkely, as they expertly master the exposed treble melodies. Evening Hymn by Henry Balfour Gardiner provides another masterful performance of the crunchy harmonies and uplifting organ writing, blended expertly by the music director Mark Williams. Finally, Blessèd city, heav’nly Salem by Sir Edward Bairstow is perhaps a slightly rousing conclusion to an otherwise calmer, more contemplative CD, but it is nonetheless a quintessentially Anglican composition that clearly reflects the legacy of Victorian church music in its style and structure.
Beautiful, tranquil, inspiring, uplifting. The recordings on this CD form an ideal backdrop for winding down in the evening and – perhaps – reflecting on the endurance of Evensong and the magic of the music composed for it.
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