Bairstow: Choral Music

Bairstow: Choral Music
Director of Music: 
David Hill
Organ Scholar: 
Paul Provost
Release date: 
January 2008
Featuring: 
  • Britten Sinfonia
  • Roderick Williams (Baritone)
  • Thomas Faulkner (Solo - Bass)
  • Gerald Beatty (Solo - Tenor)
Record label: 
Hyperion
Catalogue number: 
CDA67497

David Hill's final recording with St John's, in collaboration with great musicians including Roderick Williams, Paul Provost and the Britten Sinfonia. The music of Edward Bairstow (1874–1946) is an essential part of the British cathedral music tradition. He set his texts ‘with a beauty which makes one never able to think of the words without recalling the music’, as the Dean of York wrote on the occasion of his seventieth birthday. Certainly the more well-known works on this disc eminently fulfill this criterion. St John’s’ inspired recordings of these classic numbers in the matchless acoustic of the chapel make this a disc to treasure on these grounds alone. However it also includes some glorious rarities from different points in Bairstow’s career, which demonstrate his mastery of different styles and developing harmonic language. The Five Poems of the Spirit are a particular highlight: beautiful and unusual settings of metaphysical poetry for solo baritone, choir and orchestra, performed with passionate commitment by the wonderful Roderick Williams in this debut recording.

Track list
  1. Jesu, the very thought of thee, Bairstow
  2. Blessed city, heavenly Salem, Bairstow
  3. Lord, thou hast been our refuge, Bairstow
  4. If the Lord had not helped me, Bairstow
  5. Let all mortal flesh keep silence, Bairstow
  6. Evening Service in G (Magnificat), Bairstow
  7. Evening Service in G (Nunc Dimittis), Bairstow
  8. Five Poems of the Spirit, Bairstow
  9. Save us, O Lord, Bairstow
David Hill's fine choir is in cracking form in this collection.

The Guardian

An excellent disc in regard both to the standard of performance and to the selection of Bairstow's music. And to that should be added straight away the quality of recorded sound…The recommendation for this new issue is confirmed most decisively by the inclusion of the Five Poems of the Spirit…Roderick Williams is the ideally suited soloist and the Britten Sinfonia do justice to a delightful score.

Gramophone Magazine

His anthems and services…are treasured within the church. Their touch is sure, and their word-setting is impeccable…Bairstow could hardly have finer advocates than David Hill's St John's Choir, beautiful in tone and balance, admirable clear in enunciation, well supported by rhythmic organ playing, and outstandingly well recorded.

BBC Music Magazine

Sung with real conviction by the Choir of St John's College, Cambridge.

The Daily Telegraph

Having praised David Hill and the Choir of St John's College, Cambridge in April 2007 for their disc of works by Jongen and Peeters, I find it a pleasure to give an emphatic nod to this new release as well…The choir's intense sound is spot-on for this repertoire; no doubt Bairstow himself would have approved.

International Record Review

The very first track on the disc for instance, 'Jesu, the very thought of thee' is quite beautifully written. The choice and use of texts was of paramount importance to Bairstow and he sets these with great care… “Blessed city…” is on a grander scale and has real passion…Most surprising of all is the sheer harmonic austerity. To those expecting tedious old Anglican Church music: think again!…The real revelation is 'Five Poems of the Spirit'…These are perhaps a close relation of the 'Five Mystical Songs' of Vaughan Williams and inhabit the same sort of rather reflective, and, yes, mystical soundworld, setting texts by the Metaphysical Poets Richard Crashaw and George Herbert as well as a beautiful poem by Sir Walter Raleigh, ‘Purse and Scrip’. Bairstow responds to this with music that is confident, bracing, imaginative, and, at times, quite magical…The wistful ending of the last setting makes one regret all the more that Bairstow didn’t spend more time or have the confidence to set his mind to these larger projects. Anyone who loves English choral music will respond positively to every moment of these settings. As for the performances – the ever-reliable and versatile Roderick Williams is as eloquent as always and the Choir makes some wonderful sounds – the entry in the fourth part of ‘Poems of the Spirit’ is alone worth the price of the CD alone. Warmly and enthusiastically recommended.

Classical Source

Bairstow was several notches above the typical organ loft composer. His best work shows a keen sense of drama and a secure grasp of musical architecture…His music has a warmth and grandeur that continues the best of the great tradition of English cathedral music…The performances here are first rate…The present recording amply demonstrates that St John's has one of the finest choirs in England. In addition, the quality of the recorded sound is delightful. It is a spacious and sumptuous sound with good presences. The Hyperion engineers manage again and again to find the formula that seems to elude so many others.

American Record Guide

This disc brings a most welcome surprise, the rarely heard late set for baritone, choir, and orchestra, Five Poems of the Spirit (1944). Written during the dark days of the war, these radiate the assurance we also hear in Vaughan Williams' Five Mystical Songs…Roderick Williams sings the generous baritone solos clearly and with conviction and the Britten Sinfonia provides a solid support.

Fanfare (USA)

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