OxRecs DIGITAL

Specialists in Classical Location Sound Recording


The Church Music of Samuel Sebastian Wesley (OXCD-129)


The Chapel Choir of St Peter's College directed by Roger Allen, with organist Mary Ann Wootton, and Daniel Pugh-Bevan.



1. O give thanks unto the Lord
2. Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace
3. Blessed be the God and Father
4. Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in E major
5. The Wilderness
6. Wash me throughly
7. Praise the Lord, my Soul

 

 



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Following on from last year’s release which received many favourable reviews St Peter’s College Chapel Choir directed by Roger Allen have recorded a CD devoted entirely to the works of Samuel Sebastian Wesley.

St Peter's College, Oxford

MUSICWEB-INTERNATIONAL (April 2015): Despite the great changes he inspired in Anglican Cathedral music in the nineteenth century I suspect that the music of Samuel Sebastian Wesley is heard less often today in such services than was the case half a century; certainly less than a whole century ago. In addition, although Cathedral choirs may include his music in recitals few other choirs do so. I hope I am wrong in this but I have a distinct impression of a composer nowadays unfairly neglected in live performance. Fortunately there are already a number of admirable discs devoted to his music and many more that include one or more items in a mixed programme. The present disc adds to the former and, despite a programme which contains nothing new to the catalogue, has real merits of its own.
Wesley was organist at the cathedrals of Hereford, Exeter, Winchester and Gloucester as well as Leeds Parish Church - as it then was - but, as far as I am aware, never occupied a position at an Oxbridge college. St Peter’s College was founded only in 1928 and became a full College of the University in 1961. Its choir is mixed voice and thirty-two singers are named in the booklet. Certainly it produces a firm sound appropriate to the works on this disc and there is no hint of apology for Wesley’s bigger climaxes or for the dramatic nature of many of these anthems. The organ too, originally dating from 1875 by “Father” Willis but much altered since then, has the kind of sound I imagine the composer would have expected. These are generally powerful performances which make the most of the contrasts between the forceful and lyrical sections of the music. For the most part the listener is unlikely to notice that this is not an all-male choir, the female soloists usually producing a sound very much like that of a choirboy. The only serious exception is in the central section of “O give thanks” where Lucy Cox produces a very obviously female sound which for me suits the music very well but which may disconcert other listeners. The male soloists are accurate and phrase well but lack the sheer power which more mature lay-clerks usually manage to produce in these works. Only in this respect might these performances be compared unfavourably with those from male voice Cathedral choirs.
Despite these minor comments, this is overall a very enjoyable disc, sung and played with real commitment to the style of the music. It is a pity that “Ascribe unto the Lord” was not included, as this is a piece which any admirer of Wesley’s music will want to have on disc, but as it has been recorded elsewhere many time it is perhaps better to focus on the substantial merits of what is included here. OxRecs have enhanced those merits by providing both the texts and interesting notes on the music, as well as an admirably clear and well-focused recording. This is a disc to gladden the hearts of all enthusiasts for the music of this composer.

CHOIR & ORGAN (May 2015):
A fresh rendering here with attractive voices from this mixed line-up, with treble-toned sopranos, mixed-voice altos and young, convincing tenors and basses, altogether around 30 singers. Wesley's expressive writing can easily be overdone in performance, erring on the side of sentimentality; that is never the case here and interpretation has a light touch, as does the organ accompaniment. The one-to-a-part ensemble pieces add refreshing contrasts. Admirable this period music is always allowed to speak for itself and does so with great effect. There are useful sleeve notes and this release offers opportunity to learn more of Wesley's consistently rewarding canon.

CHURCH MUSIC QUARTERLY (SEP 2015): This disc does not contain the
complete church music S.S. Wesley, but presents an excellent survey of much of the best. The inclusion of the The Wilderness is as welcome as it is
brave. The organ scholars execute the organ parts with aplomb in the rather unforgiving acoustic of the college chapel, but Mary Ann Wootton is to be particularly commended for her performance of The Wilderness - one of the trickiest accompaniments in the repertoire. Wesley’s anthems include much writing for solos and small ensembles, and the students perform these well. Wash me throughly receives a particularly fine rendition by the full choir:
expressive yet controlled. A whole disc of S.S. Wesley makes one aware
ofhis strengths and weaknesses, but, on balance, this CD reminds us that his contribution to church music is immense and there is much that is subtle, beautiful and moving.

CATHEDRAL MUSIC (NOVEMBER 2015): ... Overall the balance among the singers, and between the singers and the organ is good, with the sopranos avoiding too much vibrato. The organ scholars put in splendid performances, especially Mary Ann Wootton who dispenses the intricate accompaniments the The Wilderness and Praise the Lord with great aplomb.... Wesley's longer anthems do not feature on every cathedral's music list so it is good to have this recording available. Recommended.
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