Andrew Nethsingha and The Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge mark the centenary of the 1918 Armistice with a new recording of choral works by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Many of the works were composed in the years immediately following the event, including O clap your hands, Lord, thou hast been our refuge and the Mass in G minor which leads the programme.
Vaughan Williams turned his attention to liturgical music following his service as a wagon orderly during the Great War. Ursula Vaughan Williams, his second wife and biographer, wrote that such work ‘gave Ralph vivid awareness of how men died’. It is perhaps unsurprising that in many of the texts to which he turned after the 1918 Armistice, the fragility and weakness of humanity becomes a recurrent theme. Despite being described as a ‘confirmed atheist’ by the philosopher Bertrand Russell, his heightened exploration of Christian texts, symbols, and images after the War might rather be understood both as an attempt to grapple anew with what might lie, as he put it, ‘beyond sense and knowledge’, and to search for consolation in religious and other inherited traditions amid a world irrevocably changed.
The fifth release in their series with Signum, the Choir of St John’s have received glowing praise for their previous releases, culminating in the choral prize at the 2017 BBC Music Magazine Awards for their debut release of works by Jonathan Harvey (Deo SIGCD456).