Hugh Benham’s Sacred Choral Music (CR050)

Review by Steven Whitehead, Cross Rhythms

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It says “Sacred choral music by Hugh Benham” on the cover and that is exactly what we get although, of course, this does not paint the full picture. Dr Benham is an academic specialising in Tudor church music as well as being director of music at St Boniface Church of England in Chandler’s Ford, Hampshire. On this new release he wears both hats with some of his compositions being eminently singable, even by small choirs, while others might challenge the most proficient. Happily, the Convivium Singers under Alexander Norman are more than capable of tackling both ends of the continuum and are in splendid voice throughout, well captured by producer George Richford at the Church of St Alban the Martyr in Birmingham. Above all, says the composer, “everything is primarily for listening, including what might be termed ‘devotional listening’. The texts are drawn from a variety of Christian traditions.”

The opening piece is a brave choice being a new setting for John Newton’s “Glorious Things Of Thee Are Spoken” and while I enjoyed Benham’s music I fear that it would take some getting used to in many congregations more familiar with Haydn’s tune “Austria” but, as the numerous settings of Psalm 23 have shown over the years, there is always room for a new tune if it is a good one and this one most certainly is. The same issue is raised in the second hymn, Charles Wesley’s “Love’s Redeeming Work”. Yet again Benham’s music is well matched to Wesley’s words and once a congregation gets used to the new tune I am sure it will become well-loved. “Ubi Caritas (Where There’s Love)” is an interesting exploration of the traditional plainsong melody with Latin text with more hymn-like sections with English text. I think many choirs will enjoy singing this one and, taken with the previous two pieces, we can start to see that Benham has a gift of melody and the happy ability to fit words and tunes together in a way that is not unlike John Rutter. All together there are 22 pieces in the collection that lasts a generous 75 minutes. Three are organ solos played by Malcolm Archer, we get a short (quarter of an hour) “Mass Veni Creator Spiritus” and an “Evening Service in G for Unison Upper Voices”, both of which should be of interest to choir directors seeking to expand their repertoire but the great strength of Hugh Benham’s creative gift as shown throughout this collection is his accessible and enjoyable choral hymns and I am happy to recommend it to all who enjoy worshipping God within the Anglican choral tradition.

Steven Whitehead, Cross Rhythms, March 2020

Further information

Cross Rhythms

Cross Rhythms

Cross Rhythms was started by Chris and Kerry Cole over 30 years ago. They saw that a media voice for the Christian faith was vital to get the Christian response to society’s ills back into the marketplace of everyday lives.

The radio began in 1983 with a half-hour programme on Plymouth Sound, an ILR station in Devon. The magazine was first published in April 1990, the first festival was held in 1991, the website was initially launched in 1995, the first Community Radio licence was awarded in 2002, the Media Training Centre was launched in 2012 and a Cross Rhythms supported online radio station in Bethlehem was launched in 2015.

Through all these mediums, Cross Rhythms is typified by using contemporary Christian music that can culturally engage with people who are outside the churches in today’s society. Cross Rhythms has also looked to communicate the Christian faith in a language that is accessible to contemporary culture but doesn’t water down it’s truths.

Visit website: Cross Rhythms

Convivium Records

Convivium Records

Convivium Records (est. 2009) is committed to working with exceptional artists and composers to record and share their music. It recognises that a great recording project needs to establish a balance between artistic aspirations and commercial expectations. In addition to commercial releases, the label takes on private projects for schools, charities and other institutions.

Convivium Records involves musicians and composers in all decisions relating to their projects. For instance, this may include initial discussions about a new album, to recording, distribution, promotion and marketing.

At the heart of Convivium Records is a dedicated team, each of whom bring their expertise to projects as required. Above all, the Label’s ambition is to exceed the expectations of their clients by creating recordings that reflect their true potential.

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