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Michael White
Gramophone, January 2015

GRAMOPHONE SPECIALIST’S GUIDE TO… Music for Choral Evensong # 6

Walton’s choral sensibilities were fixed in childhood, as a boy treble at Christ Church, Oxford, where the sound is relatively dry and favours crisp, astringent writing of a kind where you expect to hear the words. You hear everything in these accounts of Walton’s Chichester Service, including the mischief that stalks the score. They come with a sleek performance of the composer’s wedding anthem Set me as a seal upon thine heart. © 2015 Gramophone

Penguin Guide, January 2009

This disc of Walton’s church music and smaller choral pieces is another Naxos’s superb series of English choral music from St John’s College, Cambridge. It gains over rival collections of these pieces not just in price, but in using boy’s rather than women’s voices. With Walton himself trained as a boy chorister at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, his writing gains positively from that brighter, fresher sound, not just in the liturgical pieces. Even the Coronation Te Deum of 1953, designed for a big choir on the grandest of ceremonial occasions, benefits from the extra sharpness o focus, revealing not just a brilliant compression of a long text, but a taut musical structure. The pieces stretch over the widest span of Walton’s career, from the setting of Phineas Fletcher in A Litany, the amazing inspiration of a 14 year-old but, anticipating the mature Walton, to Antiphon, one of his last works, a stirring setting of George Herbert’s hymn. Let All the World in Every Corner Sing.

American Record Guide, August 2002

"The choir is one of the finest in England, and with their keenly pointed tone and astounding precision, a better choir could hardly be imagined for this repertory. Walton's sometime abrasive harmonies and intricate rhythms make this extraordinarily difficult music, but all of the works are sung here with amazing polish and assurance...The recorded sound is remarkably clear...This is a must for anyone who cares about Walton or about 20th Century English cathedral music."

Barry Millington
BBC Music Magazine, April 2002

"With its jubilant choral acclamations, exhilarating organ responses... and bold modulations, the Te Deum stirs the spirit as a special-occasion piece should, and the vivid Naxos recording takes us right into the chapel... The affecting Set me as a Seal upon thine Heart and Drop, drop slow tears are exquisitely done... All are dispatched with the style and professionalism that guarantee the status of St John's as one of the leading choirs in the country."

David Vernier, March 2002

"Listeners who don't already own the excellent Finzi Singers recording (Chandos) of what amounts to a near-identical copy of this program from Cambridge's Choir of St. John's College shouldn't hesitate to grab this equally first-rate budget offering on Naxos. Both recordings feature these essential choral pieces in performances that are as faithfully and fully realized as we can hope for (accompanied works are given in their versions with organ), from the bright and brilliant Coronation Te Deum to the sturdy and reassuring anthem Set me as a seal upon thine heart. Not surprisingly, each of the two choirs sings as if born to this music, and technically there's very little difference between the adult professionals and the men and boys of St. John's. Yes, the vocal timbres show the natural and distinct contrasts of quality most apparent in the voices of boy trebles versus mature female sopranos--but even here, Walton's music loses nothing in its impact due to the less-weighty boy soprano sound. This is as much due to the round-shaped, clearly focused tone of the boy singers as to the Finzi women's well-balanced, warmly-colored vocal character--in each case fitting perfectly into the respective overall ensemble mix.

Now for the differences: the Finzi program offers Walton's lovely--and tricky-to-sing--Christmas carols--Make we joy now in this Fest, What Cheer?, King Herod and the Cock, and All this time; St. John's inserts two organ solos of music from Henry V. Otherwise, the programs are identical in repertoire. However, each recording has its own distinct sound perspective--the Finzi/Chandos being more reverberant and close, the St. John's/Naxos being slightly drier and more distant. Although everyone won't have the luxury of obtaining both of these fine recordings (and you can't go wrong with either), no serious Walton fan will settle for less."

Edward Greenfield
Gramophone, March 2002

"Well-timed to celebrate the centenary of Walton's birth on March 29, this latest addition to Naxos's English Church Music series is not just a first-rate bargain but provides a distinctive alternative to the two fine discs which offer very similar selections of Walton's shorter choral works, unaccompanied and with organ. Where this new issue scores... is in the use of boy trebles... the presence of boys' voices consistently brings extra freshness to the St John's Choir's performances, giving them the sort of bite one can imagine the composer having in mind, with Waltonian syncopations wonderfully idiomatic in their crisp articulation... these more intimate readings also convey more clearly the impression of church performances, a clear advantage in the liturgical items above all... this new recording, particularly at the Naxos super-bargain price, is strongly recommended..."

Edward Greenfield
CNNMoney, February 2002

"The disc of Walton's church music and smaller choral pieces is another rin Naxos's superb series from St. John's College, Cambridge, gaining over rival collections not just in price but in using boys' rather than women's voices."

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