Choir of Westminster Abbey / James O'Donnell / Daniel Cook

Finzi: Lo, the full, final sacrifice; Bax: This worldes joie; I sing of a maiden; Ireland: Te Deum; Greater Love

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The choral anthems on this album, accompanied by organ, may be well enough known among English choristers, but they will be new to many general listeners. Each of the composers represented was better known for music in other genres than for choral music, but the characteristics of each one come through nicely in this medium despite the weight of the tradition involved. Gerald Finzi's text settings are marvelously subtle; Arnold Bax is the most harmonically ambitious of the three; John Ireland is limpid, but never unsubtle. The biggest stars here may be the members of Hyperion's engineering team, who get complete text intelligibility from the sometimes murky Westminster Cathedral space. There is nothing fancy about what James O'Donnell and the Westminster Cathedral Choir do here, and those who know individual pieces may have heard more activist versions that they prefer. But the cumulative effect of O'Donnell's approach is quite satisfying: his deliberate tempi and transparent textures let the music speak for itself. Sample Finzi's setting of Let us now praise famous men (from the Jewish Wisdom of Sirach, not from James Agee), a rather formal text that takes on a certain mystery from the Westminster choristers here. A worthwhile collection of music that belongs on many choral music shelves or hard drives.

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