St. Martin's Chamber Choir

Dreams All Too Brief: English Partsongs

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St. Martin's Chamber Choir, a mixed ensemble conducted by Timothy J. Krueger, has assembled a program of English partsongs on themes of night, dreams, and gentle melancholy. The composers range from the very well-known, such as Delius and Vaughan Williams, to those primarily known for their Anglican church music, such as Parry and Stanford, to the genuinely obscure, such as Henry Houseley and Robert Lucas Pearsall. The choir performs with loving attention to the songs' lyrical phrasings, and sings with a full, well-blended tone. The recording is a little shrill when the sopranos are at the top of their range and when the choir is singing at full volume, but it does seem to be more the result of the engineering rather than the quality of vocal production.

The repertoire is mostly consistent in tone and musical style, even though the songs were written over a period of about 100 years, from the mid-nineteenth (Pearsall) to the mid-twentieth centuries (Vaughan Williams). The sound is primarily that of the Victorian Anglican anthem, and for fans of that genre, this album should be highly satisfying. The most substantial work on the CD, Parry's six-movement Songs of Farewell, is the clearest embodiment of that aesthetic. The most interesting works on the album are those that strike out on a less circumscribed path. The first movement of Delius' sensual, languorous choral vocalise, "To be Sung of a Summer Night on the Water," is melodically and harmonically adventurous, employing dissonance in a way that wouldn't be respectable in church for another generation. "The Cloud-Capp'd Towers," Vaughan Williams' sensitive 1951 setting of a text from The Tempest, is also more innovative, using hauntingly eccentric progressions to evoke the mystery of Shakespeare's memorable images.

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