'Pious Anthems & Voluntaries' available now

Posted on: 14 August 2020

'Pious Anthems & Voluntaries'

The Choir has released Pious Anthems & Voluntariesfeaturing a new nine-part cycle inspired by the architecture of the College and its Chapel, and composed by Michael Finnissy, St John's Composer in Residence 2016-19. The album is available now, and has already been selected in Gramophone's 'Editor's Choice'.

Michael Finnissy's first work for the Choir, John the Baptist, was commissioned for the 2014 Advent Carol Service, and went on to win the British Composer Award for Liturgical Music (now known as the Ivors Awards). The piece was later recorded for the album Christmas with St John's.

When Andrew Nethsingha approached Finnissy to be the College's Composer in Residence 2016, the initial proposition was to create a new set of works based on motets from the early sixteenth century. What followed was an evolution of the project into something much more far-reaching, taking inspiration from works spanning from John Taverner to Michael Tippett. All of the source works have a special significance for the Choir, and the selection of pieces that span the centuries mirrors the architectural layering present in the development of St John's College.

Finnissy said of the project:

"I do not feel this breadth of vision or enthusiasm to be at all incompatible with the Victorian Gothic Revival, and hence the chapel I am supposed to celebrate. I might have a greater fondness for William Morris than for the personalities of the Oxford Movement, but their collective responses to the dark times in which they lived continue to resonate in the England of 2015-19."

The cycle was written over a three year period, and the premiere of the collection as a whole took place in June 2019 to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of St John's College Chapel.

Andrew Nethsingha writes:

“This is extremely beautiful music - rich, deep, full of colours, emotions and allusions. The music requires time to marinade in the listener’s mind. It has been fascinating to observe the cycle’s evolution, to develop a deep relationship with one composer and to gain an insight into his compositional processes. We are privileged to have had Michael as the College’s Composer in Residence for the past three years."

All praise to St John's and their conductor Andrew Nethsingha for commissioning these works, and then recording them for posterity with such skill and devotion
This is some of the most compelling music written for the ‘English choral tradition’ in many years, and as a cycle it’s a hugely important addition to the repertoire. It deserves to be heard (and reheard) by as wide an audience as possible. The results are infinitely rewarding, and a review like this can barely scratch the surface of this achievement
★★★★★ Andrew Nethsingha and his forces are fully inside this exquisitely beautiful, sensual music

Choir & Organ

★★★★★ The brilliance of the conception and the performances is that each piece works on its own, but the whole takes us on a remarkable journey. Essential listening

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Recorded on
19 October 2023
  • Introit - Parsons: Ave Maria
  • Responses and Preces: Radcliffe
  • Psalm 25.1-8
  • Readings: Isaiah 40, 1-11, Luke 1, 57-66, 80
  • Jackson in G
  • MacMillan: Christus Vincit
  • Voluntary: Langlais, Acclamations (Suite Medievale)
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