We begin in Tudor England with the joyful setting of Psalm 81 by William Byrd, organist for many years at the Chapel Royal. Sing Joyfully, scored for six voices, is one of Byrd’s later works, and vividly displays his genius for word-painting in his depiction of the bow strokes of the viola, and at the fanfare-like passages at ‘Blow the trumpet in the new moon’. Working at the same time, but in the Spanish town of Seville, and later Toledo, Alonso Lobo’s setting of Versa est in luctum is a stark contrast to the vigour of Byrd’s offering. It was written in response to the death of Philip II of Spain, and sets words from Job: ‘My harp is turned to mourning, and my music into the voice of those that weep.’ English-born composer Orlando Gibbons was a chorister at King’s College, Cambridge, under the direction of his brother, and went on to be senior organist at the Chapel Royal. Almighty and Everlasting God is a simple work, sung here by a quintet, and sets the words of the Collect for the Third Sunday after Epiphany.
Some 300 years later, in the final year of his life, Sir Hubert Parry wrote Songs of Farewell. There is an old belief is the fourth of these Songs, and uses the moving words of 19th Century writer John Gibson Lockhart. One of Parry’s pupils, Charles Wood, was himself to become a leading figure in the composition of Anglican choral music, and perhaps his most frequently performed work is the anthem Hail, gladdening light, scored for double choir.
At the age of seven, Josef Rheinberger had become organist at the Parish Church of Vaduz, Liechtenstein, with his first composition being performed the following year. Despite being a prolific composer of choral and organ works throughout his life, it is only through a handful of compositions that he remains known. The Mass for double choir was composed in 1878 and dedicated to Pope Leo XIII. Throughout the six movements, Rheinberger’s ability to compose for the voice is evident, as is his use of tone-colour through the use of different combinations of voices to paint the words in a most successful manner.
The disc concludes with two favourites. Mendelssohn’s setting of I waited for the Lordfeatures two soprano soloists accompanied by a (mostly) subdued chorus, and organ, whilst Faure’s choral masterpiece Cantique de Jean Racine is scored simply for four-part choir and organ, and brings this choral journey to a soothing end.
(Simon Hogan, 2010)