‘Thus angels sung, and thus sing we; / to God on high all glory be.’ These words, from the opening of Hymnes and Songs of the Church by George Wither (1588-1667) set by Orlando Gibbons to the tune we associate nowadays with Forth in Thy name, O Lord, I go, are the most fitting prelude to this wonderfully varied recital.
From the outset, the listener is delighted by singing of the most beautiful quality, admirably controlled ‘through the compass of the notes’ (to borrow a phrase of Dryden’s). Dr Bowman may indeed be a ‘veteran singer’ for which words I hope he will forgive me, but the performances on this disc neither invite nor require any allowance for that fact; if one is aware that the execution of certain passages has required all his experience and technique, the musical result is if anything enhanced thereby. Malcolm Archer also deserves the greatest praise for his share in the success of this enterprise, both as a composer and player; his Three Songs are attractive works of real quality, and his accompaniments and solos cannot be faulted, except that some of the sacred works, notably Turn Thy face from my sins, would arguably have sounded better with organ rather than piano. That really is a very trivial objection when there is so much to praise and enjoy.
The liner-notes describe the contents of this CD as ‘scraping the bottom of the barrel’ but surely a better metaphor would be that of reaching deep into a bran-tub and finding a variety of amazing surprises for our delight and pleasure. Do not fail to buy this.