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ClassicsOnline Home » LEPAGE-DEAN, Oliver: Evening Hymn (An) - Music for Solo Treble
By John Steane
An Evening Hymn
Music for solo treble
Cathedral choirs of men and boys have been one of the glories of this country over the centuries and the music they sing, from plainsong to contemporary compositions, forms an impressive and increasingly unique part of the corpus of music itself. There have, from time to time, been threats to their existence, for example during the Commonwealth which followed the English Civil War. More recently, there has been a rush on the part of many establishments to form girls' choirs, thus inevitably reducing the importance of the boys' contribution. This, thankfully, has not so far affected those Oxbridge college choirs which continue to maintain the traditional style of music-making, and that at the highest level, in their services. The Choir of Saint John's College, Cambridge, is one of those choirs which have steadfastly maintained this ancient tradition and, as one might imagine, over the years there have been many outstanding soloists amongst the Choristers. Oliver Lepage-Dean is the latest in this long line of distinguished singers, and it is good that such an outstanding voice (newly broken, alas) has been preserved in this recording. During his time at St John's he was a pupil of David Lowe. Some 25 items are heard, some accompanied by Christopher Whitton (organ), others by Christopher Robinson (piano). The College Choir is heard in Stanford's Magnificat in G, and in Mendelssohn's Geistliches Lied, and Graham Walker, a former St John's Chorister himself, plays the cello in the performance of Duruflé's Pie Jesu.
The programme, the first half of sacred music, the second half largely of secular, begins with the Motet pour le Saint Sacrement, O mysterium ineffabile, by the French composer Jean François Lallouette (1651-1728), Chapel Master, first at Rouen Cathedral and subsequently at Notre Dame, Versailles. Contemporary with Lallouette was Pelham Humfrey (1647-74) whose finely-wrought A Hymne to God the Father, a setting of words by John Donne, precedes An Evening Hymn by Henry Purcell (1659-95), one of the composer's most popular pieces and built throughout on a ground bass. The earlier reflective nature of the text gives way to chains of gentle Hallelujahs. The church music of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-47) deserves to be better known. The Geistliches Lied, heard here and written for alto soloist and choir is in the composer's inimitable melodious style.
Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) wrote prolifically in all forms of music. His contribution to sacred song, and to choral music in general, was outstanding and Oliver Lepage-Dean sings the first of Four Bible Songs, A Song of Peace, followed by perhaps the most beautiful of all Stanford's settings of the Magnificat, that in G. It is said that the inspiration for this composition arose from the composer's conception of Our Lady's singing of these words whilst working at a spinning-wheel, hence the running organ accompaniment. The College Choir adds its contribution to the rich texture. Stanford was Organist of Trinity College, Cambridge, and subsequently Professor of Music in the University.
Peter Hurford (b. 1930) was Organ Scholar of Jesus College, Cambridge, and is a distinguished organ recitalist. His great love of the music of J.S. Bach can be seen in this simple setting of Robert Herrick's Litany to the Holy Spirit, a piece that has become widely popular throughout the world. The Five Mystical Songs of Ralph Vaughan-Williams (1872-1958) have proved to be an enduring part of his large contribution to choral music, and include this setting of George Herbert's The Call, Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life.
Lili Boulanger (1893-1918), one of the distinguished French family of musicians, lived a tragically short life. What she might have achieved had she been spared to live to maturity is shown in this evocative setting of Pie Jesu, Domine. This piece was originally scored for solo voice, string quartet, harp and organ; we hear on this recording the version for solo voice with organ accompaniment. The composer shows already a distinctive style, though clearly in the early twentieth-century French tradition. Another composer who wrote only a very small number of works was Maurice Duruflé (1902-86). Apart from a number of very fine organ pieces, his most substantial composition was his Requiem, from which we have the Pie Jesu, Domine. Its gentle, calm phrases, with interjections from a solo cello, bring the inner meaning of these words to life.
Oliver Lepage-Dean turns to secular music in the second half of this recital, and we hear first the set of five songs under the title of The Aviary, by Richard Rodney Bennett (b. 1936). The composer, born in Broadstairs, and an accomplished pianist, has produced music in all the main forms, including four operas and a large number of film scores. His songs are especially attractive and show his gift for melody and appropriate word-setting. The titles of The Aviary are (a) The Bird's Lament, (b) The Owl, (c) The Early Nightingale, (d) The Widow Bird and (e) The Lark.
Peter Warlock (1894-1930), the name a pseudonym of the musicologist Philip Heseltine, was one of the great English song writers. His style, both melodic and harmonic, is personal, and nowhere is this more in evidence than in the three songs Balulalow, a gentle, sensuous lullaby, The First Mercy, a nostalgic view by small creatures of the birth of Christ, and The Birds, an imagined portrayal of an incident in the life of Christ at the age of four.
Best known perhaps for his piano and chamber music, John Ireland (1879-1962) contributed extensively to the cathedral repertoire, and also to solo song. He was an influential teacher who numbered amongst his pupils Benjamin Britten, Alan Bush, E.J. Moeran, Humphrey Searle and Richard Arnell. The Holy Boy is a gentle, swaying lullaby, inspired by the circumstances of Christ's birth.
The career of W. Denis Browne (1888-1915) was cruelly cut short in Turkey during World War I. What little remains of his output shows his immense promise, and nowhere is this more seen than in this song Epitaph on Salathiel Pavy (A Child of Queen Elizabeth's Chapel), a setting of words by Ben Jonson.
Arnold Bax (1883-1953) wrote a number of choral works, including a setting of Christmas words from the fifteenth century, which have been set so many times by composers. The piece builds up to a glorious climax, before subsiding to a quiet and tranquil ending.
Written by a composer prolific in almost all forms of musical composition, the imaginative settings of folk-songs by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) are deservedly well-known, and here are three examples of the best of them, The Plough Boy, O waly, waly, and Oliver Cromwell.
Finally, no programme of songs would be complete without something by George Gershwin (1898-1937), and this recital ends with his 'Love walked in', from his last film score, The Goldwyn Follies, by way of an encore.
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LEPAGE-DEAN, Oliver: Evening Hymn (An) - Music for...