Hugh Benham’s Sacred Choral Music (CR050)

Review by Henry Fogal, Fanfare

Listen and buy now on Convivium Records

Hugh Benham is a British composer, Director of Music at St. Boniface Church of England in Chandler’s Ford, Hampshire. I could not find information about his age, but in an autobiographical note online Benham mentions attending the University of Southampton in the 1960s; he published a study of Latin church music in England in 1977, which would indicate a certain seniority. 

The music on this disc is lovely and beautifully performed. A note in the booklet states, “Some of the choral music on this disc is suitable for small … four-part choirs in parish churches, accompanied by organ, while other pieces, including the Mass, Evening Service, O sacrum convivium II and Love’s redeeming work¸ were composed with larger spaces in mind. Everything is primarily for listening, including what might be termed ‘devotional listening.’” 

Devotional aptly describes the mood of this disc, whether or not the listener is particularly religious. Most of the music is written in slow tempos and feels spiritually tranquil. What allows it to maintain interest is the composer’s level of melodic inspiration and the superb quality of the singing by the Convivium Singers. Conductor Alexander Norman manages to inspire emotional engagement and commitment from the group, which in turn engages the listener. The alternation between a cappella works and works for chorus and organ provides some variety, and a handful of organ solos offers further variety—these are well played by Malcolm Archer. 

Another aspect that maintains one’s interest is Benham’s imaginative use of harmonic motion. The anonymous annotator points out, for instance in Divinum Mysterium the unexpected final C♯-Major chord in a piece the principal keys of which have been G Major and E Major. Throughout, there are moments of intriguing harmonic surprise or truly imaginative melodic turn. As a result, music that could have seemed soporific because of its largely prayerful nature turns out to be more dramatic and intense than one might have expected. 

The reverberant recorded sound is appropriate, and it never turns muddy. The inclusion of full texts and helpful notes completes a fine package. There may not be any timeless masterpiece on this disc, but there is a good supply of attractive and lovingly performed music.

Henry Fogel, Fanfare, May 2020

Further information

Fanfare

Fanfare is an American bimonthly magazine devoted to reviewing recorded music in all playback formats. It mainly covers classical music, but since inception, has also featured a jazz column in every issue.

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Convivium Records

Convivium Records

Convivium Records (est. 2009) is committed to working with exceptional artists and composers to record and share their music. It recognises that a great recording project needs to establish a balance between artistic aspirations and commercial expectations. In addition to commercial releases, the label takes on private projects for schools, charities and other institutions.

Convivium Records involves musicians and composers in all decisions relating to their projects. For instance, this may include initial discussions about a new album, to recording, distribution, promotion and marketing.

At the heart of Convivium Records is a dedicated team, each of whom bring their expertise to projects as required. Above all, the Label’s ambition is to exceed the expectations of their clients by creating recordings that reflect their true potential.

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