"Hear My Words" Choral Classics from St. John’s – Choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge/ Helen Scarbrough, English horn/ Graham Walker, cello/ Timothy Ravalde, organ/ Andrew Nethsingha – Chandos multichannel SACD 5085, 77:20 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
This choir is of course one of the most famous collegiate ensembles in the world, known for recordings, concerts, television appearances, and visual recordings as well. Since the late 1670s the choir has been fulfilling its duty in the services of the chapel. Currently there are 16 choristers who all attend St. John’s school, and the “adult” roles of alto, tenor, and bass are taken by undergraduate members of the college that are choral scholars.
It is good to see an SACD from Chandos—I was giving up hope on the company for a while, unsure of their commitment to the format, but this is a 2010 release and they have also recently begun offering hi-res downloads as well, so perhaps the future looks a little brighter for those desiring a more pristine listening experience (and who reading this website doesn’t?). This is sort of a “greatest hits” collection of choral repertory as practiced by the college choir, and it spans quite a time frame, from the 1500s to the late nineteenth-early twentieth centuries. Curiously, now that I think about it, there is little in between that is offered. John Rutter and James Macmillan are the only living composers represented—worthily so—and the selections offered are beautifully sung. I was stricken with the Allegri Miserere because my favorite has always been the Tallis Scholars on their “Live in Rome” album. This one is with larger forces and is richer in tone and temper than the very ascetic linear Gimell recording. The latter has its own sense of beauty that is enhanced by its deliberateness and spectacular unanimity of choral sound, but this one is equally moving in a different manner.
There are two “O virgin Mother of God” selections, one by Paart and one by Rachmaninoff. The romantic Russian approved this in English (!) for an Anglican choir, so I was a little surprised to see it being sung as a choral favorite in an Anglican setting in Church Slavonic, but it is nicely done.
The English works are very well done (as it goes without saying), and the remainder of the pieces are all gorgeously shaped and projected well in the surround sound. Chandos has always been criticized for their boomy sonics, but I have found that their SACD releases solve this problem, allowing the excess reverb a way out of the inflated bag, so to speak. This is an excellent issue, and anyone not familiar with this choir would do well to start right here.
Allegri: Miserere Mei, Deus
Grieg: Ave Maris Stella
Pärt: Bogoróditse Djévo
Parsons: Ave Maria
Rachmaninoff: Bogoroditse Dyevo
Franck: Panis Angelicus
Palestrina: Exsultate Deo
MacMillan: A New Song
Tallis: Agnus Dei
Rutter: O Lord, thou has searched me out
Fauré: Cantique de Jean Racine
Parry: Hear my words, ye people
Williams: O Taste and See
— Steven Ritter