Thursday 22 September 2016

The Choir of the King’s Consort under their director Robert King give outstanding performances of British Choral Masterpieces from Parry and Stanford through to James MacMillan and Thomas Hewitt Jones in an upcoming release from Vivat entitled A Voice from Heaven

The Choir of the King’s Consort http://tkcworld.organd and The King's Consort are among the leading choirs and period instrument orchestras in the world. Founded in 1980 by Robert King , they have toured in five continents and appeared in almost every European country, in Japan, Hong Kong and the Far East, as well as North and South America. With more than one hundred CDs in the catalogue, selling in excess of one and a half million copies, The King's Consort is one of the world's most-recorded historical instrument orchestras. In recent years they have built up an impressive catalogue of recordings for Vivat Music .

Due for release on 7th October 2016 is a new recording from Vivat Music  with The Choir of the King’s Consort entitled A Voice from Heaven - British Choral Masterpieces that features works from Parry and Stanford through to James MacMillan and Thomas Hewitt Jones.


After studying at the Royal College of Music under Sir Walter Parratt, Charles Wood and Sir Henry Walford Davies, William Henry Harris (1883-1973) worked as organist at New College, Oxford and later St. George’s, Windsor.  The choir of the King’s Consort bring a very fine, rich textured opening to his setting of John Donne Bring us, O Lord God, rising to some wonderful moments with the subtle use of dynamics and part writing making this something of a gem. We jump forward from 1959 to 2010 for another setting of Bring us, O Lord God by James MacMillan (b.1959) with some lovely harmonies as the choir emerges, rising and falling through beautifully shaped passages, finding poetry as well as passion.  

The other work here by William H. Harris is his setting of Edmund Spenser, Faire is the heaven that brings lovely subtle harmonies in the opening before rising through some finely turned phrases, this wonderful choir finding every little nuance. The music grows in passion centrally, before a quite lovely coda.

Herbert Howells’ (1892-1983) Take him, earth, for cherishing is something of a modern classic. Here the choir deliver a finely paced opening, subtly expanding in textures as the female voices enter with Howells’ lovely harmonies. This choir cuts to the core of this wonderful work, finding perfectly the moments where Howell’s reaches for ecstatic exuberance. Robert King’s control of the moments when the voices hold a phrase before being overlaid by another section of the choir are heart stopping. It was perhaps brave of John Tavener (1944-2013)  to set the same text given the popularity the Howells’ Take him, earth, for cherishing but how uniquely fine it is, wonderfully phrased and paced, revealing Tavener’s exquisite harmonies and with the lovely effect of distance female voices.

Solo soprano, Julie Cooper opens Charles Villiers Stanford’s (1852-1924) I heard a voice from Heaven with the choir soon joining in this very fine setting. This soloist brings some superb moments with the most glorious harmonies caught spectacularly well in the acoustic of St. Jude’s. The choir finds a soft glow and when the soprano solo rises out of the choir it is a spine tingling moment.

It is tenor, Tom Robson who opens Herbert Howells’ I heard a voice from Heaven to which the choir responds beautifully. One needs no convincing of Howells’ stature as a composer but here the music is elevated even higher. When baritone Andrew Rupp rises out of the choir it is another fine moment. This choir finds a lovely ebb and flow with superb harmonies and weaving of the choral tapestry.

Though Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988) did not achieve the profile of some of his contemporaries he was, nevertheless, a very fine composer. Here the choir bring lovely sonorities to his setting of the 17th century Phineas Fletcher’s verse Drop, drop, slow tears with Robert King allowing his singers space to breath with a lovely gentle flow.

Charles Hubert H. Parry’s (1848-1918) Lord, let me know mine end is beautifully phrased with naturally varying tempi. The choir find a spontaneity in this distinctive setting with some brilliantly incisive, dramatic singing at times and some particularly fine part writing.

They show more of Charles Villiers Stanford’s fine choral writing with his Justorum animae, rising wonderfully in the more dynamic passages and finding a lovely sonority in the gentle moments.  Lennox Berkeley’s (1903-1989) setting of Justorum animae is beautifully shaped with some lovely, distinctive harmonies, this choir finding a lovely flow.

Herbert Murrill (1909-1952) is another name that may not be familiar to listeners. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music and Oxford before working for the BBC and becoming Professor of Composition at the RAM. The choir brings some sumptuous harmonies to his setting of The souls of the righteous revealing some lovely moments particularly at the end where the basses are heard to great effect.

Thomas Hewitt Jones (b.1984)  is an award-winning composer and winner of the 2003 BBC Young Composer Competition. Here he sets the same text as Kenneth Leighton, Drop, drop, slow tears. The choir gently rises and falls through some lovely passages, this choir finding rapt, glowing textures with occasional vibrant outbursts in this very fine piece.

John Tavener’s Song for Athene, takes its text from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the Orthodox Funeral Service. The choir rises from the depths on the word ‘Alleluia,’ creating a tremendous atmosphere as the choir take the text over a deep choral drone. The idea of ‘Life: a shadow and a dream’ is so well conjured here with the choir of the King’s Consort bringing a stunning atmosphere, quite entrancing, finding light as the music rises in the most glorious textures before a quiet coda.  

These are outstanding performances that bring a wonderful line up of British composers, some well-known, others less so. The equally outstanding recording from producer Adrian Peacock and recording engineer David Hinitt made at St Jude’s Church, London, UK is an equal star in this production.

There are excellent notes from Robert King as well as full English and Latin texts with translation.

This could well be the finest choral disc of this year.  

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