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Jeremy Dibble
Gramophone, February 2016

THE SPECIALIST’S GUIDE TO… Forgotten works of Victorian Britain

This large-scale, full-with-verse anthem (c1836), written while Samuel Sebastian Wesley was organist at Exeter Cathedral, was conceived for four solo voices, eight-part choir and organ. It’s by far the longest anthem on this CD (18’35”) and more closely resembles a cantata. Its centrepiece is a magnificent section for solo baritone, ‘Thou, O Lord God’, which shows off Wesley’s advanced harmony and treatment of dissonance. © 2016 Gramophone

James Carson
Fanfare, September 2007

…the work of both full choir and soloists is a model of perfect intonation, blend, and text declamation. The same virtues remain in consistent evidence throughout the program… © 2007 Fanfare Read complete review

John Steane
Gramophone, June 2007

SS Wesley has been well served in recent times by the choirs of Worcester Cathedral and New College, Oxford, both of which have recorded programmes devoted to his works. Since these recitals have been deleted, it seems that interested listeners have had to collect him piecemeal. This CD by the Choir of Clare College arrives therefore at a needy time, though perhaps there are readers who think that that may be overstating the case. The writer of the booklet-notes, Nicholas Temperley, places Wesley as "a towering figure in the history of English cathedral music", which I think exaggerates a little. He is certainly a major figure and, what is more important, he's good.

There are few lovelier anthems than thou wilt keep him in perfect peace; Cast me not away is worthy to stand with Purcell's Hear my prayer; and among his larger choral compositions The Wilderness retains an enviable place in the service-lists. For those who know Ascribe unto the Lord there will be many more for whom its final chorus, "The Lord hath been mindful of us", is a firm favourite, satisfying in structure, vigorous in counterpoint, and sporting as its main themes two of the best melodies in the chorister's repertoire.

The Choir of Clare College, which many will remember for their fresh and accomplished singing under John Rutter, is here directed by Christopher Robinson, than whom none better. The Robinson touch is manifest in the marvellous phrase "that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice" (Cast me not away). Poor old Wesley had injured his in a fishing accident: he writes feelingly and the choir are with him. The "ransomed of the Lord" passage in The Wilderness has an energy I can't recall in other performances. And the soprano soloist in "And sorrow and sighing" sings like an angel. Temperley puts very ably the arguments in favour of of a mixed choir in this music; to my ears (too long habituated, maybe) it sounds wrong. But much else sounds right, including the balance, the work of the organists and the programme itself.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, May 2007

This is a first class tonic. The Choir of Clare College Cambridge now consists of women and includes ten sopranos. To ensure uniform vocal quality counter-tenors are combined with the (female) altos and this makes for a satisfying, full and rich sound. Traditionalists may miss the flutier and purer treble sound but I can certainly say that it didn’t concern me.

Many of these anthems are staples of the repertoire and though other recordings offer fluent and well-balanced recitals this one offers not only blended singing but also excellent solos, sensitive organ contributions and a vividly lively approach to the anthems. Ascribe unto the Lord for example is a relatively long and involved setting which can fragment when not controlled. Here it anything but fragments. Note too Wesley’s naughty Handelian borrowings; the lines “The Lord hath been mindful of us” is set to one of Handel’s Op.1 Violin Sonatas, itself probably a self-borrowing.

I mentioned the fine solo singing. There’s an example of that quality in O give thanks unto the Lord with its powerful aria-like purpose and lyric gifts. It’s invidious to mention individual choir members, because three take outstanding solos, but I shall add that the soprano here is Philippa Boyle. Don’t overlook, amidst my comments regarding Christopher Robinson’s energetic and forward-moving direction, that the choir can sing very softly and with great precision – this anthem in particular ends with a most deft example of control.

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace is a compact and beautifully eloquent piece and receives an appropriately beautiful reading. Readers will want to know that Let us lift up our heart – that big and involving setting with an important role for baritone George Humphreys in Thou, O Lord God – reprises the same qualities of sensitivity and power that inform the entire selection. The contrast between full and women’s voices in the central section of The Wilderness is splendidly realised. In fact the performances are uniformly excellent throughout.

St Michael’s Church, Tenbury has an intimate acoustic – lines aren’t smudged or lost as they might be in a bigger and more resonant building ensuring that the setting is appropriate for these anthems. The booklet includes full texts and enjoyable notes. I’ll end as I began and call this a real tonic.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2007

The son of Samuel Wesley, a famous composer of sacred music, and the grandson of Charles Wesley, the great hymn writer, Samuel Sebastian Wesley became the most important figure in English cathedral music in the 19th century. In his early years he tried composing in many genres, but found he had a ready market and steady income working as a cathedral organist who provided a regular flow of music for his choristers to perform. You would be forgiven in placing Ascribe unto the Lord far later than its 1851 origins, but the modern harmonies used were not typical of a composer who seemed intent on pleasing his audience. The present disc is devoted to Anthems written through much of his career, his love of writing for solo voice creating many works including the beautiful O give thanks unto the Lord and Wash me throughly. Many of his scores in this format are in a number of sections creating a much larger piece, Let us lift up our heart created from five sections that can be performed separately. I could not claim the uninitiated will find this music driving itself into the memory, but those who enjoy English church music will find the disc indispensable. It uses a mature choir without that special quality of young choirboys, though the accompanying booklet validates the use of sopranos by relating that Wesley always preferred their added vocal stamina. The Clare College Choir does justice to the music, though I am happier when the full choir is employed rather than in the solo passages. Not really top-drawer sound quality by Naxos standards, but quite agreeable.

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