A Year at Winchester

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A YEAR AT WINCHESTER - Winchester Cathedral Choir - Andrew Lumsden (Director) - Simon Bell (Organ) - 802561037224 - Released: January 2012 - Regent REGCD372

1 - Charles Wood - Hail, gladdening light (Advent)
2 - John Tavener - God is with us (Christmas)
3 - Jonathan Dove - The Three Kings (Epiphany)
4 - William Byrd - Senex puerum portabat (Candlemas)
5 - Henry Purcell - Hear my prayer, O Lord (Lent)
6 - Anton Bruckner - Ave Maria (Annunciation)
7 - Donald Sweeney - Litany (Palm Sunday)
8 - Donald Sweeney - Quem quaeritis (Easter)
9 - Charles Stanford - Ye Choirs of New Jerusalem (Easter)
10 - Patrick Gowers - Viri Galilaei (Ascension)
11 - Edward Elgar - The Spirit of the Lord is upon me (Pentecost)
12 - John Sheppard - Libera nos, salva nos (Trinity)
13 - John Rutter - Winchester Te Deum (St Swithun, Patron Saint)

This is one of the best choral discs to come my way in a long time. Many factors prompt me to think that way, but I will try and break it down to three good reasons in order to save some binary bits.

First of all, the Choir of Winchester Cathedral, the 22 boy choristers, the 20 girl choristers, and the 12 lay clerks (men), all sing as if their lives depended on it. There is a natural, underlying joy, enthusiasm and energy to their voices that simply cannot be fabricated. Even though they are constantly singing for various services and concerts throughout the year, there is still a sense of fresh discovery behind their voices. The same can be said about organist Simon Bell. I'm sure he and the choir probably went over these pieces many, many times in preparation for the recording, but yet there is still a tangible sense of excitement, involvement and circumstance to his playing. And director Andrew Lumsden brings all this energy together to create quite an inexorable force.

Next but of even greater impact, is the music itself. From the power of the Wood, to the devout simplicity of the Bruckner, to the inherent joy of the Rutter, each and every choral work on this CD, be it a cappella or with instrumental accompaniment, is just as beautiful as the next, each in its own distinct way. For example, if you like choral music, you owe it to yourself to hear the Viri Galilaei by Patrick Gowers. Scored for choir, organ and synthesizer (don't cringe, the synthesizer is actually what makes the piece work), it's dramatic and powerful enough to induce goosebumps. The swirling bell-like synthesizer, played by assistant organist Richard McVeigh, creates a bright, shimmering vision of heavenly hosts, while the pulsing organ pedals and forceful choristers ascend. There are not many recordings of this piece, so its great to hear it on this disc.

The recording itself is top notch and realistic. Close enough to capture the power in the voices, but distant enough to convey the vast interior of the cathedral. The echoes of a thousand year old edifice almost reveal the ghosts of choristers past, as if all the music ever performed there was still trapped within its historic walls. Magnificent sound! Highly recommended!

Jean-Yves Duperron - January 2012