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Paul L Althouse
American Record Guide, September 2010

These are very fine performances of two VW choral works with orchestra, written in 1926 (Sancta) and 1936 (Dona). Dona Nobis Pacem is, with its poignant anti-war text, the better known because its message always seems applicable. Sancta Civitas, which deals rather enigmatically with the struggle between good and evil, is less often heard, but it is also a fine work, said to be a favorite of the composer.

The Bach Choir does an excellent job with Dona, and they are ably joined by the Winchester singers in Sancta, which requires semi-chorus and distant chorus as well as the main body of singers. The soloists are all good, but special mention should go to soprano Christina Pier, who is splendid in the Dona solos. Conductor Hill paces both pieces for good dramatic effect, and choral-orchestral balances are expertly handled.

Ronald E. Grames
Fanfare, September 2010

This release presents two of the great English composer’s most heartfelt statements of personal conviction: the 1936 Dona Nobis Pacem, his strongest statement on the depravity of war, and the visionary Sancta Civitas (1923–25), his clearest confession of personal faith. (Pace Bertrand Russell, Vaughan Williams prefaced the score of Sancta Civitas, which drew heavily on Revelations, with Plato’s quote of Socrates from Phaedo, “A man of sense will not insist that things are exactly as I have described them. But I think he will believe that something of the kind is true of the soul and her habitations,” and reportedly considered it his favorite choral work.) It is a combination that seemed odd at first, as others have opted for more stylistically consonant combinations, but as an overview of the soul of the man it is perfect. The horror of war and the destiny of the soul are themes to which Ralph Vaughan Williams returned continually throughout his life and these two works are the purest statements of those preoccupations...Naxos offers superb performances...David Hill’s generally quicker tempos reveal an appealing vigor and backbone in the works altogether fitting to the rugged verse of Walt Whitman and the apocalyptic vision of St. John of Patmos. Listen, for instance, to the noble, steady pacing of RVW’s “Dirge for Two Veterans,” or to the ecstatic “Nation Shall Not Lift Up Sword Against Nation.”...Hill’s recording impresses with his thrilling choruses, nuanced and exemplary in the clarity and spaciousness of the recording of the multilayered Sancta Civitas—much like Britten’s later War Requiem in its use and positioning of multiple choruses and ensembles—and in two of his soloists...[compared with the soloists on other versions] Christina Pier, a new name to me, provides similar purity of tone and contained power with a pleading quality that is very moving...Andrew Staples more easily sings the tenor’s 21 syllables in their uncomfortably high tessitura...this new Naxos release has many virtues and no debilitating liabilities, and ought to be acquired by anyone with an interest in this repertoire. It is powerful, lucid, beautifully sung, and vividly recorded.

Warwick Thompson
Classic FM, June 2010

On the showing of this fine recording from Naxos [Sancta Civitas] certainly deserves a firmer place in the repertory. Conductor David Hill creates a beautiful nostalgic-numinous atmosphere, but he also has a keen sense of drama and whips up some thrilling climaxes…a great case for a neglected work.

Stephen Johnson
BBC Music Magazine, May 2010

David Hill conducts both these works with a strong sense of their overall shape…anyone coming to these works for the first time through these recordings is unlikely to be disappointed.

David Hurwitz, May 2010

These are beautiful works, and they receive very good performances. David Hill digs into the war music of Dona nobis pacem quite effectively (save for the missing tam-tam at the climax of Beat! beat! drums!), the choirs sing very cleanly, and soprano Christina Pier is the best of the three soloists on this disc. The two men, while not bad, have what you might call “oratorio” voices—good as regards declamation, but not especially attractive as pure singing. Still, they get the job done, and in Sancta Civitas the interplay between the various on-stage and distant choirs is particularly well judged. The latter really is a masterpiece, a gorgeous work that, perhaps because it’s not as physical and hard-hitting, gets less play than its disc mate.

Naxos’ engineering is very good in terms of balances between chorus and orchestra, but the soloists sometimes sound as if they are operating in a different acoustic, with an odd halo around the voice. On the whole, though, this disc represents good value, and is at least as successful as the competition on EMI (mostly) and a few other labels.

Jim Leonard, May 2010

It is a great shame that Ralph Vaughan Williams’ choral music is not better appreciated outside of England, because Vaughan Williams’ choral works are in their own ways every bit as good as his symphonies. But, thankfully, there is still an England, and thus still performances of Vaughan Williams’ cantata Dona nobis pacem and his oratorio Sancta Civitas like this pairing on Naxos led by David Hill. With the services of the Bach Choir, the Winchester College Choristers, and the Winchester College Quiristers, plus soprano Christina Pier, tenor Andrew Staples, baritone Matthew Brook, and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Hill turns in commanding performances of both works recorded in deep, detailed, and colorful sound by Naxos. Though not for Vaughan Williams neophytes—try his Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis [Naxos 8.572080] for 10 minutes of the composer at his best and most characteristic—listeners who already know Vaughan Williams’ instrumental works will likely enjoy his choral works as well.

John Steane
Gramophone, May 2010

These performances under David Hill are fine, responsive to the beauty and the terror…[they] impress as more impassioned than Hickox’s and the recorded sound has a keener range and depth of perspective.

Matthew Power
Choir & Organ, May 2010

The high-octane emotion Vaughan Williams injected is captured here with alacrity. Keen orchestral colours and pure diction from the chorus and choristers combine with Hill’s vivid reading of both scores to make this pairing a superb new addition to collectors’ shelves.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2010

Dona nobis Pacem was a warning made to the world by Vaughan Williams in 1936, his cantata offering a prayer as he viewed the world sliding into the Second World War. Potent in musical content, he used emotive words by Walt Whitman and a fragment of the Latin Mass. There are no hidden messages, for this speaks directly to its audience, many sections carried at a high emotional level. It calls for a soprano and baritone soloist, and offers the chorus a most rewarding role. It is strange that a self-confessed agnostic wanted to use religion to voice his fears, but he had, of course, immersed himself as a young man in sacred traditions when commissioned to edit the English Hymnal. Eleven years earlier he had completed Sancta Civitas, a score using words from the Book of Revelations, and by selecting those parts that would be familiar to those of sacred persuasions, it allowed him to picture humankind’s destructive instincts. This time he uses baritone and tenor soloists with choirs spatially situated. Maybe without the immediate impact of Dona nobis Pacem, it is still a most imposing score. In both works Matthew Brook is the outstanding baritone, weighty, but still a lyric voice. The American soprano, Christina Pier, and tenor, Andrew Staples, are very good and with perfectly focused voices, but it is the Bach Choir who sing with such fervour as to lift the music from the printed page. Their conductor, David Hill, draws top quality playing from the Bournemouth Symphony. The same coupling has been previously issued, but with such outstanding sonics this is a self-recommending disc at any price.

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