Hugh Benham, apart from being our Guild’s Fellowship Director, has long been a highly respected name in the field of musicological research. Indeed his Latin Church Music in England 1460–1575 has long been a treasured book of mine which I have often referred to in my own research, amongst many other educational books he has written.
So it was a delightful surprise to receive this CD of music composed by Hugh and performed by a choir of such a high standard. Recorded at St Alban the Martyr in Birmingham, the recording presents a selection of anthems and organ pieces for the whole church’s year. Right from the bold solo reed in the introduction of A Triumph Song the composer’s approachable harmonic and melodic style draws the listener in. My favourite tracks are the setting of Christina Rossetti’s well-known Love came down at Christmas, which is given a beautifully mellifluous treatment with a lovely harmonic twist in the second verse and Divinum Mysterium, mostly a setting of There is no rose, but incorporating fragments of the familiar Piae Cantiones hymn.
The organ pieces are unmistakably English with some familiar stylistic echoes. Amongst his Latin settings, O sacrum convivium is in a straightforward chordal style, not without the faintest echoes of Messiaen but I imagine infinitely easier to perform! Ave, verum corpus follows the structure of the Elgar setting but is far more adventurous tonally. Behold the Lamb of God is a fine unison hymn setting of a Matthew Bridges hymn from A&M Revised.
Great credit must be given to Neil Ferris for his excellent direction and Michael Higgins for his solos and sensitive accompaniment.