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Recordings

Psalms for the Spirit
19 Sep 2007

Psalms for the Spirit

Psalmody, be it in the form of chanted recitations or anthem settings, lies close to the heart of liturgical singing, and this collection, “Psalms for the Spirit” brings together an engaging variety of both long familiar and recent psalms that celebrates the traditions and explores new directions.

Psalms for the Spirit

Choir of St. John’s, Elora; Matthew Larkin, Organ; Noel Edison, Director.

Naxos 8.557781 [CD]

$5.99  Click to buy

Noel Edison’s forces offer highly polished renditions that show great care in preparation and skill in execution. (As a side note, it is not entirely clear just who “Noel Edison’s forces” are—the disc and cover material identify them as the Choir of St. John’s, Elora; the liner notes, however, describe them as the professional Elora Festival Singers. One imagines a degree of overlap, in any event, but the editorial slip is irksome.) The choir’s chanting is richly controlled, nicely articulate, and sensitively inflected. However, the price paid in order to achieve this level of control is an occasional trace of “undersinging” and constraint. With the Anglican chants this is not particularly problematic as their verbal priority invites a lightness and ease of production. Similarly, in anthems such as the introspective “O Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem” by Herbert Howells, the intimacy of the setting is well served by the close control. But despite all the good things—wonderful blend, subtlety of inflection and articulation—it remains hard to shake the occasional trace of constraint and the wish for more freedom of sound. This is most apparent in Parry’s war horse, “I was Glad,” trotted out as a rousing conclusion to the program; it is well sung, but also a bit underwhelming. Or in William Matthias’s sprightly “Let the Peoples Praise Thee, O God,” written for the 1981 wedding of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer, the choir never yields to throw some unbuttoned caution to the wind, and the frolicsome lines are less rollicking for it.

The program itself is a well-crafted anthology of both anthems and chants, chestnuts (Garrett, Goss, and Samuel Wesley) and newer works (Chlicott, Larkin, and Edison). Of the newer pieces, Robert Chilcott’s “My Prayer” is particularly notable. Combining interesting textures, harmonies, and evocations of Purcell’s famous “Hear my prayer,” it is a challenging and welcome addition to a repertory that sometimes finds the shackle of tradition difficult to break.

Steven Plank

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