Pausing briefly to wonder wether, strictly speaking, this should be OR review material, we move swiftly on – wary of biting the hand that keeps us in the style accustomed… James Bowman has become universally recognised as a leading counter-tenor and Malcolm Archer as a distinguished cathedral musician, recitalist and composer. Talk of “dream teams” is clearly in order.
Accompaniments (and solos: Ireland, Scott) are performed variously upon an Estonia Grand piano, (2012 recordings) and a Bösendorfer (2013 items), a Kenneth Tickell chamber organ and, beautifully restrained, the Cathedral’s Nicholson organ.
The title reflects the medieval belief that angels sang in the Alto range. James Bowman disarmingly admits that he chose pieces at random simply because he liked them and they had not hitherto featured in his many recordings. Only the three songs by Malcolm Archer (written for James Bowman) and Christopher Moore’s brief Prize Grace were composed for counter-tenor. All else is transposed and re-arranged.
The opening tracks establish repose and tranquility, Portsmouth Cathedral’s warm acoustic adding further ambience. I saw a maiden is more restless, likewise Cyril Scott’s charming but surprisingly quite busy Lullaby (piano solo), and similarly into Tennyson/Williamson’s Sweet and low. Sweetness and light take a back seat in the Archer pieces alluding to thorns and sin. If, like mine, your top ten includes Quilter, Elgar and Stanford, your cup floweth over, Vaughan Williams, Britten and, yes, Attwood deservedly getting – to mix metaphors – two bites of the cherry each. Sensitive, elegant, peaceful.