Edward Bairstow and William Harris are choral composers not often heard outside Britain, and even there, their music tends to show up in church services (both were organists as well as composers) more often than on recordings. The commercial success of this recording has doubtless been due to the chance to sample their choral music, which follows on that of Stanford and Howells, and even forms a kind of link with the large body of stylistically conservative choral music of today. Their pieces are both more progressive and more conservative than the Stanford works included here. They add strong dashes of chromaticism, but they don't contain the big Wagnerian gestures present in Stanford's music. Sample the fascinating choral rippling in the third minute of the Stanford Nunc dimittis from the Evening Service in A, to hear why Stanford survives but Bairstow and Harris, largely, do not. However, there's more to the success of this recording than the presence of unfamiliar repertory and the rich readings of Stanford. Although Bairstow and Harris did not work at Westminster Abbey (Bairstow spent much of his career at York Minster, Harris at St George's, Windsor), the Westminster Cathedral Choir under James O'Donnell seems born to the music in the way that other English cathedral choirs might not. The choir has a full sound that almost belies the presence of children, and it fits with the predominantly sunny tone of many of these pieces. Organist Peter Holder contributes a little-played intermezzo with Harris' Flourish for an Occasion, a work that ought to return to the repertory. With fine engineering work in Westminster Abbey itself largely obviating the need for the included texts, this release is recommended to British choral music enthusiasts.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Evening Service in A Op. 12|
|Festal Communion Service in B flat, Op. 128|