Great Cathedral Anthems from Canterbury Cathedral

Great Cathedral Anthems

The Girls & Men of Canterbury Cathedral Choir, Adrain Bawtree & Nicholas Wearne (organ), David Newsholme (Director).

It is highly appropriate to be reviewing a CD by the girls and lay clerks of Canterbury Cathedral as we approach the fourth anniversary of the founding of the girls’ choir in January 2014. For centuries, women were forbidden to sing in church choirs, so that much of what we think of as great classical church music was written for boys and men and for centuries Canterbury Cathedral Choir was an all-male group.

On this CD we have a range of British choral works, presented chronologically, from Tallis and Byrd through to Howells and Leighton. Thus the compositions range from the sixteenth century through to the twentieth century and provide a well-chosen set of works from some of our finest choral composers throughout the last four hundred years.

The Girls and Men of Canterbury Cathedral are ably directed by David Newsholme. Organ duties are shared between assistant organist Adrian Bawtree (in the Gibbons, Croft and Parry works) and Nicholas Wearne, an organ tutor at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, in the works by Greene, Boyce, Howells and Leighton.

We start with Tallis’ Honor, virtus et potestas which is sung so that, despite the long lines and the intensity of the drama, the text emerges above it all. We continue with Byrd’s Ave verum corpus. Since it is widely accepted that Byrd intended his Latin motets for use either in underground Masses or for publication in books for use in homes the music was most likely performed with female sopranos making this a highly appropriate choice of work. We move from the Renaissance period to the Baroque with works by Gibbons, Croft and Greene and on to one of William Boyce’s best known choral works O where shall wisdom be found?

On to the Romantic period to one of Stanford’s finest choral compositions, Three motets, Op.38. Justorum animae is suitably contemplative in the outer parts; Beati quorum via, with its divided sopranos and basses, is most exquisite and there is much dramatic interplay in Coelos ascendit hodie. This is followed by Parry’s second most popular work (after Jerusalem) I was glad when they said unto me – splendidly sung and powerfully accompanied on the organ by Adrian Bawtree.

The CD ends with two fine examples of twentieth century anthems; Howells’ Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks and Leighton’s Let all the world in every corner sing. The joy of all concerned is palpable in this rhythmic and syncopated work, typical of Leighton, which brings this most pleasing CD to a close.

Purists may argue about the appropriateness of using female voices since most of the repertoire of church and cathedral choirs from Tallis onwards was was written with an all-male choir in mind. However when the overall sound of the works is as fine as that produced here I am happy to forego authenticity and simply revel in the quality of the singing of these young women and indeed that of the men.

This is a highly enjoyable, well recorded CD that flows well and contains some wonderful singing. With its broad spread of works, it would serve as an excellent introduction to British church music for those unfamiliar with this genre. Existing lovers of these anthems should also sample this release to hear for themselves the high standard of music-making that David Newsholme is achieving at Canterbury.

A recording that is fit to grace any music collection. Go ahead and buy it!¹

iClassical rating: 

Listen on Spotify nor buy from Presto Classical.

¹ Readers of the BBC Music Magazine should, however, be made aware that this is the same recording as that issued with BBC Music Magazine Vol 25 #7 entitled Great British Cathedral Anthems.