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.