Leighton the choral master is what we hear today, even though he would not have been happy with the legacy.

“Crucifixus” = KENNETH LEIGHTON: Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis “Collegium Magdalenae Oxonienses”; God’s Grandeur; Give me the wings of faith; Missa Brevis Op. 50; Missa de Gloria, Op. 82, ‘Dublin Festival Mass’: Ite, missa est; What love is this of thine?; Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis (Second Service), Op. 62; Crucifixus pro nobis, Op. 38 – Choir of Trinity College Cambridge/ Stephen Layton/ Andrew Kennedy, tenor/ Jeremy Cole & Eleanor Kornas, organ – Hyperion CDA68039, 72:09 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Leighton (1929-1988), a devoted Yorkshireman, was not especially devout, so it is one of life’s great ironies that despite his over 100-work catalog in many genres, he is most beloved among English choristers than anywhere else. He loved poetry and nature, and perhaps we can hear that reflected in some of the works on this recording. But it must be said that if he by and large eschewed church and the Anglican tradition, he sure as heck understood it well, for these religious pieces are as innately Anglican as any you will hear.

Not that that is a bad thing, though in many cases it certainly can be, but Leighton had an ear for the serene and the complex, and knew how to resolve the difficulties without cow-towing to the easy way out when writing music meant for choruses that were no doubt substandard in many places, yet in need of just the sort of spiritual or pseudo-spiritual elements that the composer seemed to be able to whip out without any problems. Yet his music never seems false or feels phony; we may never know what he was thinking about when he created some of these Christian gems, but they stand, and stand well among the existing last-century catalog entries, blissfully unaware of the soon to be standard close-harmony ecstasies so prevalent today.

Layton, as usual, knows his repertory well, and as usual, gets super-high performances out of his ensembles. Try at least one Leighton choral disc—he is worth hearing, and might just surprise you in his ability to affect the emotions, whether religiously inspired or not.

—Steven Ritter