Samuel Sebastian Wesley, son of composer Samuel Wesley and grandson of Charles Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was the preeminent composer in early Victorian England. His legacy is secure because of the continued prominence of his choral anthems in the repertoires of choirs of Protestant churches throughout the English-speaking world. This Naxos CD collects many of his most familiar anthems, performed by the Clare College Choir, Cambridge, conducted by Christopher Robinson and accompanied by organist James McVinney. The choir sings with an extraordinarily pure, sweet, and straight tone and with a refreshing naturalness. Its soloists have consistently attractive and unaffected voices; these are not international stars, but their direct and secure solos and ensembles are always a pleasure when they emerge from the choral fabric.
Wesley's anthems will not be to everyone's taste. He was no great melodist, and the anthems succeed primarily because of his ability to set long texts in an earnest but pleasantly lyrical style, with a Mendelsohnian sweetness. Wesley skillfully integrates a declamatory homophony with more contrapuntal writing, but the anthems are clearly text-driven; they would have little inherent musical continuity or interest as instrumental pieces. As devotional music, however, understood as part of a service of worship, they are highly effective. Naxos' sound quality is open and spacious with plenty of resonance, but not enough to obscure the textures or the texts. Thanks to the composer's skill, the performers and the recording are always clearly comprehensible.