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John Quinn
MusicWeb International, February 2013

There’s ample evidence on this disc of excellence and high standards. There’s also evidence of discernment. In putting together this programme Brown has mingled the familiar and the less familiar though all have in common that they’re very well worth hearing.

The Voice out of the Whirlwind also comes from 1947 and may be unfamiliar to many but the musical material should not be. Vaughan Williams based it on ‘The Galliard of the Sons of the Morning’ from his orchestral masterpiece, Job, A Masque for Dancing. It’s a spirited work and it’s fascinating to hear the music from Job recycled into a new guise. It culminates in a majestic organ peroration which is superbly voiced here by Ashok Gupta.

The organ is heard to even more spectacular effect in A Vision of Aeroplanes. The choir is here joined by guest, James McVinnie…He dispatches the organ part with dazzling virtuosity while the choir handles RVW’s no less demanding choral writing with huge assurance. This is a vividly dramatic and thrilling performance captured in excitingly present sound.

There could scarcely be a greater contrast than that between A Vision of Aeroplanes and the serene masterpiece that sits at the heart of this programme. The Mass in G minor is one of the peaks of the English a cappella repertoire. Timothy Brown and his choir give it a wonderful reading. The serene Kyrie is beautifully done, the singing poised and controlled. All the contrasts—of mood and dynamics—are brought out in the Gloria while in a magnificent account of the Credo I particularly admired the sensitivity and control with which the Et incarnatus section is delivered. The rapt Agnus Dei sets the seal on a very fine performance indeed in which besides excellent choral singing we hear four members of the choir acting as an assured solo quartet.

Throughout this varied and contrasting programme the Clare College choir is on top form. Their discipline, tuning, intonation and balance are all beyond reproach and all the performances are full of sensitivity. All of this bespeaks scrupulous preparation. The choir makes the fresh sound of youthful and very well trained voices and it’s very pleasing to hear. In several of the items the then-Organ Scholar, Ashok Gupta, does splendid work as their accompanist.

The recorded sound is very good indeed. The choir is clearly recorded and the sound of the organ…has been superbly captured by the engineers and balanced very well against the choir. There are very good notes by the conductor.

This disc is a fine reminder of Timothy Brown’s excellent work at Clare College. © 2013 MusicWeb International Read complete review

James A. Altena
Fanfare, November 2010

I include a disc of choral music by my beloved Vaughan Williams; in addition to making available several premiere recordings and rarities, it offers a stunning performance of the Mass in G Minor that caused the scales to fall from my eyes and brought this work out of the cold into my personal pantheon of VW choral masterpieces.

Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, August 2010

With small reservations, William Hedley thought this a most desirable disc—see review. It’s not, perhaps, such an urgent recommendation as the other Naxos/VW recording which I reviewed recently, of Dona Nobis Pacem and Sancta Civitas (8.572424) but it runs it pretty close.

James A. Altena
Fanfare, July 2010

One of the few works of his that heretofore has failed to appeal to me is the Mass in G Minor, which has always seemed pleasant but not particularly distinguished. That has now changed radically with this disc. The moment the Kyrie sounded through my speakers, I sat bolt upright in my chair, slackjawed and dumbfounded at the ethereal, pellucid purity and superb articulation of the singing, the fleet vigor and elegance of the pacing, and the astonishing inventiveness of the composer’s adaptation of Renaissance means to modern ends in the manner of his stupendous Tallis Fantasia. (As in the earlier work, Vaughan Williams again created an antiphonal contrast between a solo quartet and a larger ensemble.)…The other pieces recorded here are performed on a similarly high plane, and have much less competition, especially since some (The Voice out of the Whirlwind, Three Choral Hymns, A Vision of Aeroplanes) are offered with organ rather than orchestral accompaniment. All are very typical of the composer’s choral works, except for Vision with its exotically spiky and dissonant opening section, evoking the roar of an aircraft squadron by analogy with the prophet Ezekiel’s apocalyptic vision of four winged creatures. The closest thing to a competitor in this combination of repertoire is the Hyperion disc with the Westminster Cathedral Choir, containing the Mass, Valiant for Truth, and Vision, but the Naxos CD is superior in every way. This is also apparently the first recording of Nothing Is Here for Tears, and the only available recording of the Exultate justi. The booklet notes, by the conductor, are excellent…this disc has my highest possible recommendation, and is a candidate for the 2010 Want List.

Ronald E. Grames
Fanfare, July 2010

Timothy Brown is astute to combine the Mass in G Minor, Vaughan Williams’s timeless tribute to modal Tudor polyphony—the choral equivalent of the Tallis Fantasia—with several less familiar sacred choral works…A Vision of Aeroplanes, a late (1956) work nearly as miraculous in its quest for a new voice as the contemporaneous Ninth Symphony, turns out to be the high point of this release. Technically challenging for both choir and organ, it gets a vigorous performance from the choir and guest organist James McVinnie. The Mass, too, is generally on the fast side and while this can be a virtue, Brown occasionally presses from one musical idea to the next too quickly for full effect. Still, most important solos are satisfying or better, and the choral singing is most handsome, sensitive, and technically assured…The Voice out of the Whirlwind is better heard in the original orchestral version on Naxos [8.557798] with David Lloyd-Jones and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, a release that includes two otherwise unavailable cantatas, Willow-Wood and The Sons of Light…So, is there reason for acquiring this CD? Absolutely. It offers a career-spanning selection of Vaughan Williams’s lesser-known choral works, all of them gems, well sung, and at budget price. Brown directs with energy and a fine sense of balance…Vaughan Williams completists will want this, regardless, for four otherwise unavailable minutes of music: the setting of Milton’s Nothing Is Here for Tears and the bracing A Choral Flourish—recorded here without trumpets—a setting of the first four verses of Psalm 33.

Andrew Stewart
The Classical Review, May 2010

Although inevitably colored by his upbringing as the son of an Anglican clergyman, Ralph Vaughan Williams’ religious outlook developed notably free from dogma and the burdens of received wisdom. His early scepticism was perhaps influenced by family ties binding the composer to his mother’s illustrious ancestors, Charles Darwin and Josiah Wedgwood. It certainly steered him towards atheism during his student years at Trinity College, Cambridge, and shaped his later agnosticism and lifelong belief in Christianity’s collectivist nature. The man’s critical and exploratory engagement with religion registers in its many forms throughout Timothy Brown’s fascinating choice of sacred choral music, enshrined in everything from pieces written for grand occasions to material intended for village choirs.

Above all, Clare College Choir and its director of music catch the common humanity of the composer at prayer. Tim Brown, who retires this summer after 31 years in post, sang as a boy treble at the internment of Vaughan Williams’ ashes in Westminster Cathedral in 1958. He recalls the deep impression left by the experience in the booklet notes: “It was impossible, young as I was, to be unaware of the act of national mourning in which I was participating”. Brown’s emotional engagement with the composer remains as vivid today as it was half a century and more ago. The adult church musician invests a lifetime’s energy and thought into pieces all too often hobbled in performance by turgid tempos and wooden phrasing. I’m thinking particularly of the Mass in G minor, which emerges here as a piece of intense and impassioned reflection on the butchery committed on the fields of Flanders only a few years before its completion in 1921.

There’s much of the same about two other ‘war’ works on this disc, The souls of the righteous, written for the dedication service of Westminster Abbey’s Battle of Britain Chapel, and the composer’s hortatory setting of John Bunyan’s Valiant-for-truth. The latter especially shows the focused professionalism, refined musicianship and searching intelligence of Clare’s student ensemble.

Whether by a process of osmosis, hard rehearsal graft or a combination of the two, Brown is backed to the hilt by his 28-strong choir of mixed voices and Clare organ scholars past and present. James McVinnie, now assistant organist at Westminster Abbey, returned to his old college to deal dashingly with the demands of the concerto-like organ flourishes and roulades in A Vision of Aeroplanes. Clare’s incumbent organ scholar, Ashok Gupta, crafts a rich registration palette to suggest the grandeur of the orchestral version of The Voice out of the Whirlwind. His alert accompaniment underpins one of this highly recommendable album’s finest performances.

William Hedley
MusicWeb International, May 2010

Apart from the superb singing and playing to be heard on this disc, one of its main attractions for Vaughan Williams enthusiasts will be a programme featuring several lesser-known works. Indeed, thanks to this disc, two pieces make their first appearance in my supposedly comprehensive Vaughan Williams collection. Nothing is here for tears, a unison song to a text from Milton, was written following the death of George V. Its melody is pure Vaughan Williams, and once heard will haunt most devotees of the composer for the rest of the day. A Choral Flourish, on the other hand, is a brief and brilliant setting in Latin of the final verse of Psalm 32. It is unaccompanied apart from a tiny, clarion-like introduction.

The Voice out of the Whirlwind, wherein the composer adapted the “Galliard of the Sons of the Morning” from Job to fit a challenging text from the Book of Job, is given here in its original version for choir and organ. Most of the organ-accompanied works on this disc exist also in orchestral versions, and listeners interested in the orchestral arrangement of this work, which Vaughan Williams prepared for the Leith Hill Musical Festival, can hear it on the superb Naxos companion disc featuring the first recording of Willow-Wood [8.557798]…The Souls of the Righteous is one of the composer’s less well-known unaccompanied motets, but a most beautiful one. The excellent soloists are named in the booklet.

Any lover of Vaughan Williams’ music—especially if he or she is also an amateur choral conductor—will probably quibble at this or that detail of interpretation in some of these performances, so if I say that there are aspects of this reading of the sublime Valiant-for-Truth that I might have preferred otherwise, let me underline that it is, nonetheless, as beautiful a performance as all the others on the disc…Like Valiant-for-Truth, the Three Choral Hymns is a minor masterpiece. It was one of several works Vaughan Williams composed to celebrate the jubilee of the Leith Hill Musical Festival in 1930, and according to Timothy Brown’s booklet notes, this is the first recording of it in its organ-accompanied form. All three pieces are marvellous, but the third, “Whitsunday Hymn”, is pure balm. I only know one other performance, that by Matthew Best conducting the Corydon Singers on Hyperion, the orchestral version and thus with slightly greater claim to the collector’s attention. As regards the choral contribution, however, there is nothing to choose between the two performances. I had not listened to this work for a long time, and I’m looking forward to returning to both performances many times over the coming weeks.

Vaughan Williams is in many respects an enigmatic composer. Whilst much of his music may be taken, as it were, at face value and enjoyed as such, obstacles arise when one starts to ponder on its meaning; the composer himself would have argued that the question was irrelevant. Few of his works pose questions so intractable as A Vision of Aeroplanes. The words, chosen from the first chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, tell of bizarre, humanlike figures which appear out of a whirlwind and fire, of wheels that rise and fall with them, of the noise of the beating of the creatures’ wings “as the voice of the Almighty” and a throne upon which sits “the likeness of the glory of the Lord”. The main part of the work is Vaughan Williams at his most violent and uncompromising, the choral parts highly challenging technically, and the organ part even more so. This is a magnificent performance, though in common with others I have heard the huge organ part coupled with the church acoustic prevents some of the choral dissonances from being heard. I’ve never quite been able to come to terms with this piece, with its tritone and whole tone harmonies, so alien to most of the composer’s output, but once again this is a performance to which I will return with renewed determination in the hope of doing so…The virtuoso organ part in A Vision of Aeroplanes is brilliantly played by James McVinnie. The excellent organist in the other accompanied works is Ashok Gupta, a final-year student at Clare College.

And so to the main work in the programme, the Mass in G minor…The echoes of Tudor church music are particularly strong in this performance, and at certain points one is almost transported back through the centuries, such is the purity of the singing and the vision. The solo parts are particularly convincing, as they are throughout the disc, and Brown gets as close as any conductor I have heard to a real triple piano in the final cadence…most desirable disc.

John Steane
Gramophone, May 2010

This performance, lovingly moulded and well balanced in the play of solo voices and full choir, is in the best tradition.

Relf Clark
Choir & Organ, May 2010

The singing and playing are of a high order, and congratulations go to James McVinnie for mastering the ‘aeroplane’ accompaniment.

David Vernier, April 2010

Recordings of Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G minor don’t come along that often—but with this new one, Naxos has two first-rate performances in its catalog, the other with the Elora Festival Singers (type Q4177 in Search Reviews). That’s where the similarity between the two recordings ends, however—and that’s a good thing. In fact, this disc is different from most Vaughan Williams choral programs due to its abundance of rarely-heard works.

The two more-familiar items—Valiant-for-truth and the Mass—are performed as well as you’ll hear anywhere on disc; the challenging a cappella scoring in both—but especially in the very exposed textures of the Mass—allows us to fully appreciate this choir’s ensemble unity and solid intonation. The Mass is among the faster-paced versions on disc, similar to our reference recording (Cedille), but Timothy Brown knows that slower can mean trouble in this work, and he moderates tempo where it counts, most importantly in the Agnus Dei.

Among the lesser-known works, The Voice out of the Whirlwind is one of those grand cathedral anthems with a busy organ accompaniment, fun for all to sing and play, while Nothing is here for tears (written on the death of King George V) is in the best tradition of this composer’s unison-voice anthems whose lovely, easily singable hymn-like tunes and well-crafted organ parts are always appreciated by choral directors and choirs. In a completely different universe is the motet A Vision of Aeroplanes, a tour de force for choir and organ (especially for organ!) that sets words from the prophet Ezekiel (the one about the vision of the "wheel within a wheel..."). In the hands of organist James McVinnie and these exceptional singers, the whole fantastic picture comes vividly to life.

Perhaps best of all—and also among the rarely-heard pieces—are the Three Choral Hymns. Although the three-movement work was originally scored for orchestra, Brown and his choir offer what apparently is its first recording with organ accompaniment. It works well, and perhaps in this form it will draw broader attention and more performances.

The Mass always seems difficult to record, and that’s true here, with some harshness in the loudest passages and occasional uneven balances between the two choirs and between the choir and quartet of soloists. It’s not a big deal, just a peculiar phenomenon that may be related to the particular features of the work’s scoring, harmonic structure, and voicing. I also have to mention that for a recording of choral music to come without printed texts, as is the case here (they are only available online), is not ideal, especially when the majority of texts will not be familiar to most listeners. That said, this is an excellent and much needed addition to the Vaughan Williams choral catalog, and fans of the composer will not want to be without it. Strongly recommended.

Andrew Stewart
Classic FM, April 2010

There’s no doubt [Vaughan Williams] would have doffed his boater to the latest recording…from Clare College…the sweeping energy and rich detail of Tim Brown’s interpretation draw out the best from his young singers, in matters musical and mystical.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2010

In editing the English Hymnal  the young VaughanWilliams, a self-confessed agnostic, became immersed in the English sacred traditions, and he was to add a series of outstanding works, the Mass in G minor a masterpiece in the genre. Much was well within the scope of amateur singers, yet all benefit when we hear them in such accomplished performances from the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge. There has, of course, been many distinguished previous recordings of the Mass, one from the Elora Festival Singers on Naxos among the top recommendations. It is unaccompanied and falls into five movements, its feel of restrained rejoicing depending much on the beauty of choral tone. It receives that in abundance, often a haunting beauty, the high sopranos so pure in quality, though I would stress they are female and not the boy’s voices for which the work was originally intended. You will also have to accept that the excellently sung Three Choral Hymns is shorn of its orchestral accompaniment, and here recorded for the first time with an organ backdrop, I must comment on the finely spun tenor solo from Jonathan Langridge in the final Whitsunday Hymn. The main challenge comes in A Vision of Aeroplanes first performed by the professional and much vaunted choir at St Michael’s Church, in Cornhill, London. It is not only a massive challenge to the singers, but equally for the organist, Clare College here drafting in for this one track James McVinnie from London’s Westminster Abbey. It proves a thrilling experience. A group of short motets, including The Voice out of the Wilderness and Valient-for-truth, complete the disc.

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