The Tree

The Tree
Director of Music: 
David HillAndrew NethsinghaChristopher Robinson
Organ Scholar: 
John ChallengerGlen DempseyGeorge HerbertJames Anderson-Besant
Release date: 
November 2021
Featuring: 
  • Yale Schola Cantorum
  • Former Members and Friends of the College Choir
  • Jack Ross (trumpet)
  • John Clapham (tenor)
  • James Adams, Bradley Smith (bass)
Record label: 
Signum
Catalogue number: 
SIGCD691

We celebrate the rich heritage of the choir through a new album The Tree, featuring live recordings from St John's College Chapel.

The album plays with the idea of growth, inspired by the tree described in the Book of Job, starting with the single treble line of Hildegard of Bingen's O pastor animarum before gradually adding organ, lower voices, a second choir, 150 additional singers, and finally combining nearly 500 voices together. The image of a tree sprouting new branches can be seen as a metaphor for revival in the wake of the pandemic, the textural growth of the music form a single melodic line reflecting the heritage of the choir itself.

Andrew Nethsingha, Director of Music, said “Several pieces on the album are directed by my predecessors, Christopher Robinson and David Hill. The album is released as a tribute to them, celebrating their 85th and 65th birthdays respectively. Some of my most moving and inspiring experiences in Cambridge have been watching them return to conduct the present choir. In an interview with Martin Cullingford for Gramophone fifteen years ago, David spoke of ‘a process of osmosis really. They pass on – in a way that they don’t even talk about, no one ever discusses it – a tradition of how to phrase, a tradition of how to sing a particular thing. Listen to the choir from 20 years ago, and go into the building now, and you will hear that they’re two Burgundies from the same valley, probably on the same chalk, but tasting slightly different.’ Well, I do talk about it to the choir, but in other respects I hope that what David said is still true! Alternatively, one might think of the choir itself as a tree, constantly growing new branches. My hope is that listeners might feel the ‘liveness’ of these archive recordings more than compensates for the lack of studio conditions. As I completed work on the album, pandemic restrictions only allowed us to sing services in an empty Chapel; we should never take for granted the joy of having a real (if occasionally noisy!) congregation with whom to share our music-making.”

Some works on the album are directed by past St John’s Directors of Music Christopher Robinson and David Hill and it features music by St John’s Composers including Robinson, Herbert Howells and Jonathan Harvey. The album also features sicut aquilae by James Long, one of the five works written for the College’s 500th anniversary. Nethsingha has paired these works with music by Elgar, Rowlands, Parry, Stainer and Stanford all dating from around the turn of the twentieth century.

All tracks on the album are taken from live services in the St John’s College Chapel, including an Evensong where the choir performed with Yale Schola Cantorum in addition to tracks from a special alumni service in 2019 where generations of former choir members came together to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the College Chapel. The album concludes with Love Divine, all loves excelling, sung by nearly 500 people including the choir, former choir members and the congregation.

Track list

  1. O pastor animarum - Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)
  2. The Tree - Jonathan Harvey (1939-2012)
  3. sicut aquilae - James Long (b.1987)
  4. The Preces - Herbert Howells (1892-1983)
  5. The Responses - Herbert Howells
  6. The Spirit of the Lord - Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
  7. A Hymn for St. Cecilia - Herbert Howells
  8. A Song of Wisdom - Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924)
  9. Jesu, grant me this, I pray - Christopher Robinson (b.1936)
  10. Hear my words, ye people - Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918)
  11. God so loved the world - John Stainer (1840-1901)
  12. Hymn - Love Divine, all loves excelling - Tune: Blaenwern, William Rowlands (1860-1937). Descant: Christopher Robinson)

Booklet

Reviews

This is another very fine album from the Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge. Though the performances were recorded over several years and at different services, the standard of singing – and organ playing – is consistent, which is to say excellent
This listener is always pleased to hear Edward Elgar's 'The Spirit of the Lord', particularly when it is sung as well as it is here and likewise 'A Hymn for St Cecilia' by Herbert Howells is always a joy

Steven Whitehead, Cross Rhythms

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Recorded on
20 November 2021
  • Responses and Preces: Rose
  • Psalm 104 vv.1-10 (tone iii)
  • Readings: Genesis 45.1-15, John 20.19-23
  • Kennedy (Worcester Service)
  • Biebl: Ave Maria
  • Voluntary: Franck Choral no.1 in E major

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Hugh Cutting

Former Choral Scholar Hugh Cutting has won First Prize at the 2021 Kathleen Ferrier Awards, the first countertenor to do so

The contribution of Andrew Nethsingha and St John's College, Cambridge to the Evensong tradition - both in the chapel and on record - deserves great praise

Gramophone