Psalms of Salvation & Mercy / Patterson, Gloriae Dei Cantores
Anglican chant--a harmonized form of liturgical chanting, primarily of psalms--isn't like anything else in music. Although it's closer in style to speech than traditional monodic Gregorian chant, the harmonizations--and thus the requirement for a particular type of singing ensemble--removes it from the impersonal and functional to the realm of a more artistic, performance-conscious purpose. To sing Anglican chant--and especially to sing it properly--you need a choir of mixed voices who have mastered the myriad aspects and subtleties of phrasing, inflection, articulation, tonal balances, dynamics, and the often debatable rules of pointing, not to mention the necessities of coordinating with the supporting--and sometimes ornamented--organ accompaniment. Outside of British record shops or cathedral gift stores, you rarely see a recording of real live Anglican chant--certainly not on this side of the Atlantic--so it's refreshing to discover that the very fine Massachusetts-based Gloriae Dei Cantores, known for its many Gregorian chant recordings (among many other choral-music projects), has undertaken a three-volume series to explore, and hopefully expose new listeners to, this exceptional, unique, and affecting body of liturgical music.
There are 22 psalm settings covered here, by a wide range of composers writing in predominantly traditional styles--in other words, this volume doesn't contain any of the more recently-composed or harmonically "adventurous" settings some listeners will be familiar with. What we do get is the essence of Anglican chant sound and style--and thanks to the superb efforts of this very sensitive, responsive choir, its knowing director, and a pair of first-rate organists, we experience something of the uniquely expressive power inherent in this manner of psalm-singing, which in its most accomplished form allows phrases to flow and important individual words their full presence and meaning.
I was happy to hear several of my favorite settings--especially the Wesley for Psalms 42 and 43, the Goss for Psalm 11, and Aylward for Psalm 138--as well as many beautiful unfamiliar ones. I only wish that the choir and organ were recorded in a more favorable--that is, less noisy--acoustic. Perhaps a bit more distance, or a slight dampening or reconfiguring of the live, resonant space would help. At any rate, it's a treat to hear this music so well realized and enthusiastically sung (supported by some very nice organ work). I'm looking forward to volume 2!
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
Catalog Number: GDCD038
Label: Gloriae Dei Cantores
Composer: Alan Stephen Hemmings, Charles Harford Lloyd, Charles Hylton Stewart, Charles MacPherson, H. S. Oakelay, J. Jones, John Goss, Samuel Wesley, Sir George Elvey, Theodore Aylward, Thomas Attwood Walmisley, Thomas Purcell, W. Russell, W. Sterndale Bennett, William Bayley, William Hine, William Morley
Conductor: Elizabeth C. Patterson
Orchestra/Ensemble: Gloriae Dei Cantores