Stone Records

Independent Classical Music

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Mary-Louise Aitken


Louise Alder


Susanna Andersson


Ardingly College Schola Cantorum


When David Heard

English and American choral masterpieces

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Related Artists: Mark Ford, Jonathan Schranz, The Purcell Singers


Catalogue No: 5060192780925


This is a lovely collection in every way. The singing is beautiful, the program is very wisely chosen, and the recording is spacious without being muddy. There is a sufficient range of musical styles here to hold one’s interest over the disc’s one hour length. The Purcell Singers was founded in 1994 by Mark Ford, who continues to serve as their music director. The group should not be confused with the Purcell Singers that were founded in 1932 by Imogen Holst. I am not sure whether this group chose its name to honor the earlier ensemble or not. These a cappella choral works all date from the twentieth century, either from England or America. There are some unfamiliar pieces and some that will be well known to lovers of choral music. Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium has been recorded many times, and while I will not claim that the present performance tops all the others, I can confidently say that it is as good as any I have heard. The Purcell Singers, whether conducted by their founder Mark Ford or by frequent guest conductor Jonathan Schranz, seem never content to just sing the notes correctly. They are sensitive to the texts and the colors of the music, communicating those elements vividly. Samuel Barber’s Agnus Dei is the composer’s own arrangement of his Adagio for Strings (he knew a hit tune when he found one), and it is as lovely and effective in this choral setting as in either the original string quartet form or the full string orchestra version. Benjamin Britten’s Flower Songs were composed in 1950 as a 25th wedding anniversary present for Leonard and Dorothy Emhirst, good friends of the composer who were, among other things, keen botanists. Thus the subject of the lovely cycle, which finds Britten at his most straightforward and direct. The major work on the disc, which gives the CD its title, is When David Heard by Eric Whitacre. This 13-minute score was composed in 1999, and its origin is surely part of the reason for its power. It was commissioned by Dr. Ronald Staheli through the Brigham Young University Singers on the occasion of the death of Staheli’s son in an automobile accident. Whitacre took his text from the Second Book of Samuel, “When David heard that Absalom was slain, He went up into his chamber over the gate, and wept. And thus he said, ‘O my son, my son Absalom!’ Would God I had died for thee! O Absalom my son, my son!” You can see how these grieving sentiments would be enormously powerful, and Whitacre has applied great imagination in depicting the emptiness felt by King David without becoming maudlin. I found this performance much more impactful than an earlier recording with the Brigham Young University Singers, partly because the actual recorded sound has more presence here (the earlier recording was overly reverberant) and partly because the Purcell Singers inflect the text with far greater specificity. Everything on this disc was a pleasure to hear. From the hushed beauty of James Erb’s arrangement of Shenendoah to the powerful anthem Bring Us, O Lord God by the British composer William Henry Harris, the wide range of emotion makes for a totally absorbing experience. Excellent notes along with complete texts round out the picture. Five stars: A lovely and moving collection of choral works, beautifully sung and recorded (Fanfare)

An exemplary group, perfectly balanced, warmly focussed and totally committed to this deliciously attractive music (Gramophone)

Excellent discipline and well blended ensemble under the guiding spirit of conductor Mark Ford (BBC Music)

A musical triumph (American Choral Review)

Track listing

  1. My Love Dwelt in a Northern Land (Elgar)
  2. Agnus Dei (Barber)
  3. Bring us, O Lord God (Harris)
  4. Shenandoah (Erb)
  5. Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing (Howells)
  6. O Magnum Mysterium (Lauridsen)
  7. To Daffodils (Britten)
  8. The Succession of the Four Sweet Months (Britten)
  9. Marsh Flowers (Britten)
  10. The Evening Primrose (Britten)
  11. Ballad of Green Broom (Britten)
  12. Abide With Me (Monk/Hogan)
  13. Drop, Drop, Slow Tears (Leighton)
  14. When David Heard (Whitacre)