Our latest CD was nominated as Editor’s Choice in Gramophone magazine in July 2020, and as Critics Choice for the whole of 2020 in American Record Guide magazine. “Our Father in the Heavens” is a CD of anthems by the Edwardian English composer Sir Edward Bairstow.
An exemplary and wholly thrilling tribute from the Schola Cantorum of Tewkesbury Abbey. From the first inhalation of breath to the final chord, this is a sonic feast.
(Joe Riley, Organist’s Review, *****)
This rewarding disc provides further evidence of the excellent musical standards at Tewkesbury Abbey.
(John Quinn, Music Web International)
A splendid recording of music by one of the great composers of Anglican church music. This goes into the favourites pile.
(Delcamp, American Record Guide, Critics Choice for 2020)
The stars of the show for me are the boy choristers, who have a beautiful limpid sound, ideally suited to the music, and demonstrate impressive control of colour and dynamic in Bairstow’s long phrases.
(Clare Stevens, Choir & Organ, ****)
Sturdy and sensitive, the anthems are royally served by organist Carleton Etherington and Simon Bell’s Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum. A choir that sports boys’ voices of stellar beauty alongside the work of professional lay clerks is a rarity these days.
Gramophone – EDITOR’S CHOICE JULY 2020
With our cathedral, abbey and church choirs so sadly silenced and the future of their cultural inheritance under threat, it is good that Regent Records can remind us of some of this precious glory with an impressive survey of anthems by one of the pivotal figures in early 20th-century British choral music, Edward Cuthbert Bairstow (18741946). Raised in a strict Methodist family in Huddersfield, a Freemason and master Meccano hobbyist, Bairstow was renowned for his bluntness, especially with amateur choruses. A key figure in the raising of choral standards, particularly in the north of England during his long 33-year tenure at York Minster, he can be considered one of the most significant composers of anthems since SS Wesley. Here are about half of his output of anthems, including two premiere recordings.
The Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum open a splendid disc with the best-known, Blessed city, heavenly Salem, a series of variations on the plainsong hymn ‘Urbs beata Hierusalem’, given here in a typically impassioned performance. Bairstow’s fondness for variation form also informs Of the Father’s love begotten and Lord, thou hast been our refuge, this latter painted on a large emotional canvas. How one craves the original orchestral accompaniment. The unaccompanied pieces fare particularly well, especially the disc’s title-track, Our Father in the heavens (1932), and the introit Let all mortal flesh (1906), both of which demand vocal stamina and perfect pitching. In comparison to the Westminster Abbey Choir’s disc of music by Bairstow, Harris and Stanford (Hyperion, 6/19), the Tewkesbury choristers have the edge, with their vitality of tone, clarity of diction and willingness to stir up the underlying dramatic impetus.
As with Warlock’s song piano accompaniments, Bairstow’s organ parts are masterpieces in their own right, chock-full of colour and sumptuous quasi-orchestral detail. Carleton Etherington clearly relishes the challenge, totally at one with choir director Simon Bell.
Let us hear more Bairstow from these wonderful executants. It is also high time that his exquisite violin Variations of 1916 (composed for Sibyl Eaton) were commercially recorded.
A YEAR AT TEWKESBURY
Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
The idea behind this CD is a good one which is why those clever people at Regent Records are using this in a series. Take a good choir and compile a programme that follows the liturgical year starting at Advent and allowing the choir’s director to select music that reflects the choir and its context. While all the CDs in this series feature music from Christmas and Easter there has, so far, been no overlap. On this recording from Tewkesbury Abbey the Christmas box is ticked with a first recording of David Bednall’s “Alleluya, A New Work Is Come On Hand” that was commissioned by the choir and Easter is celebrated with Edward Bairstow’s “Sing Ye To The Lord”. The lesser festivals allow the director to use material that is particularly suited to the choir or works from composers associated with the area. For the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary we hear the first recording of Bob Chilcott’s “There Is No Rose” and for St Michael and All Angels we go back to the 17th century for “Alleluia, I Heard A Voice” by Thomas Weelkes.
Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum of Dean Close Preparatory School, to give the choir its full name, is directed by Simon Bell and sing traditional Anglican choral music to a very high standard. The recording was produced at Tewkesbury Abbey by Gary Cole and is as clear as a bell. The singing by choir and soloists is first class and appropriate accompaniment comes from Carleton Etherington and Edward Turner. If this is a series you have been following then you can be assured that this latest release is as good as those that have gone before and if your interest leans towards traditional Anglican choral singing you will find this to be a rewarding listen.
CHRISTMAS FROM TEWKESBURY
Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
Back in 2005 we applauded ‘A Cotswold Christmas’ by Tewkesbury Abbey Choir School which had served there since 1974. However the Abbey School closed the following year and since then choristers have been educated at Dean Close Preparatory School in Cheltenham. Every day in term time the 16 boy choristers join with the adult lay clerks to offer public worship in the Norman abbey. This collection of festive music is a selection from the repertoire that Schola Cantorum can be heard singing during the run up to Christmas each year. Some of the pieces are new recordings of well-known favourites, whilst others will be less familiar.
Each year, Dean Close School commissions a Christmas carol for Schola Cantorum and the Chapel Choir at the senior school. On this recording, three of these works are presented. Bob Chilcott’s atmospheric setting of “The Night He Was Born” was commissioned in 2006 and is a setting of words by Helen Dunmore. Philip Moore’s reserved “Into A Quiet World” was written in 2012 and Thomas Hewitt Jones’ jaunty setting of original words by Paul Williamson, “Verbum Caro Factum Est” was completed for 2013’s services. These last two pieces are recorded here for the first time. There are several much more familiar pieces included, such as “O Little Town Of Bethlehem”, “Ding Dong! Merrily On High”, and “O Come, All Ye Faithful” so whether you are looking for old favourites or something new this CD will have it.
Simon Bell, the Director of Choral Music and Organist at Dean Close School, gets an excellent performance from the choir and the balance between the men, three to each part of alto, tenor and bass and the 16 boy trebles is very good and well recorded by producer/engineer Gary Cole. Those who like traditional Anglican choirs (ie, men and boys) will greatly appreciate this release. Also worthy of note is the organ playing by Carleton Etherington who accompanies the choir as needed and closes the performance with a rousing solo in “Toccata Sur Il Est Ne Le Divin Enfant” from Denis Bedard’s ‘Deux Noels’.
CHRISTMAS FROM TEWKESBURY
Review by International Record.
An attractive new recording from Regent, Christmas from Tewkesbury, caught my attention and consistently held it, being made up almost entirely of recent arrangements and traditional carols by British composers. Among the latter are works by Chilcott and Rutter, who have together carried the
tradition handed down to them by earlier masters, and who must now be regarded as the leading composers in this field in the world. There are three pieces here commissioned by the Dean Close School, where the Choristers of Tewkesbury Abbey are educated.
On this CD, the singers of Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum are directed by Simon Bell, with organist Carleton Etherington, and they deliver performances of music — with by no means all of it, as I have implied, familiar to listeners — which at all times are entirely impressive. The three newly commissioned works are by Chilcott, Philip Moore and Thomas Hewitt Jones (the last continuing a strong family tradition), each of which deserves a place in the repertoire. In some ways, this disc supplements the more traditional type of Christmas CD perfectly.
Tewkesbury Abbey is more than fortunate to have such an excellent choir as this — as it in turn is to have such an excellent musician as Bell as its director. A fine recording of uncommon musical interest (Regent Records REGCD440, 1 hour 12 minutes).
SCHOLA CANTORUM’S MESSIAH
A glowing review of Schola Cantorum’s Messiah by Handel under new Director of Music, Simon Bell.
Schola Cantorum: Messiah, Tewkesbury Abbey Gloucestershire Echo Tuesday 18 December 2012.
INTEREST was high for this performance of Messiah, the first to be conducted by Schola Cantorum’s new director of music, Simon Bell. But I detected no sign of first night nerves. Indeed the choruses were sung with conviction and clarity, each one imbued with its own particular character.
There was an air of tension and excitement in Unto Us a Child is Born. He shall Glorify had a joyous lightness of touch, while Lift up your Heads was sung with plenty of dynamic and dramatic contrast.
Adding to the professionalism of the performance was a team of top rate soloists, not least the three choristers who sang the Christmas recitative from St Luke’s Gospel with such aplomb from different spaces within the Abbey.
The alto arias, like He was Despised, were a joy to listen to thanks to the clear, melodious and expressive voice of counter-tenor David Martin from Westminster Abbey. Soprano Julie Cooper’s clarity of tone and good projection impressed in such arias such as Rejoice Greatly.
Tenor Nick Pritchard’s sensitivity to the words of the texts was evident from the opening recitative Comfort Ye, and more especially in the extended sequence for tenor in Part 2 where he made good use of his operatic skills.
Bass Philip Tebb gave a splendid account of The Trumpet Shall Sound, and displayed real indignation in Why do the Nations above a bristling accompaniment from the Bristol Ensemble.
One cannot praise these musicians too highly. They set the standard for the evening with an impeccably played overture and offered the singers good support throughout.
This was a remarkable performance deserving only of superlatives. I left the Abbey, the final Amen ringing in my ears, convinced that the excellence of Tewkesbury Abbey’s choral tradition will continue with Mr Bell at the helm.