The Sunday Times, December 2010
Works by our three greatest composers on this vigorous, enjoyable disc celebrate divine majesty and the musical resources of the Temple Church, on Thameside. Purcell’s Te Deum in D and early anthem My beloved spake, a setting of lines from the Song of Solomon, are followed by Elgar’s Te Deum from Op 34 and Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb. This last animates Christopher Smart’s quaint verse in Jubilate Agno with a felicity out-Purcellianing Purcell. Finally, a third (or, if you count the Britten, fourth) Te Deum – Howells’s from his Collegium Regale, with the organist Ian Le Grice.
A welcome Christmas release which captures the resonant acoustic of the City of London’s Temple Church, where we have enjoyed notable musical experiences during the year, especially Monteverdi’s Vespers – and next door in Middle Temple Hall, a fine series of Temple Song recitals.
A particular pleasure it was to renew acquaintance with Britten’s splendid Rejoice in the Lamb, which exemplifies his special flair in choosing texts for setting to music. I was delighted to hear again its fanciful and eccentric Christopher Smart poem and to be reminded that my small son Simon was once its Mouse, "a creature of great personal valour", before going on to great things as the leading boy treble soloist of his generation.
Well recorded and supplied with full texts. There is a companion release of English organ music played at Temple Church
The Gramophone, March 2011
Enterprising performances of English music from the 17th and 20th centuries.
This substantial and festal programme contrasts three settings of the Te Deum spanning 250 years of English composers, from Purcell in 1694 to Howells in 1944. The finely honed 30-strong Temple Church choir displays its versatility by switching effortlessly from the delicate declamations of Purcell (accompanied at modern pitch by the "period" Temple Players) to the symphonic sweep of Elgar’s offering for the 1897 Three Choirs Festival (superbly supported on the organ by the ever-dependable lan le Grice).
The various solo contributions are generally fine, full of character and nicely shaped, especially in Britten’s arch and sinewy Rejoice in the Lamb. Its neo- Purcellian rhythms bounce along artfully, with every nuance of Britten’s highly detailed score clearly placed and underpinned by the magnificence of the Temple’s 1926 Harrison and Harrison organ. Diction is clear and choral attack is crisp throughout. Intonation is excellent.
The well-blended trebles also soar effortlessly in Howells’s "Coll Reg", which displays a less overly theatrical approach to the text, destined for liturgical rather than concert usage. James Vivian moulds a flexible (though shapely) interpretation, the Temple’s acoustic bathing choir and organ in a sumptuous glow, absorbing and diffusing the wide dynamic range with ease.
Such enterprising and polished music-making deserves widespread currency. The engineering and editing are faultless, the booklet comprehensive and informative. Many choirs (and organists) could learn much from this jubilant release, which proves that the Temple Church Choir is among the very best. Strongly recommended.
Choir & Organ Magazine, May/June 2011
Compilations such as these too often confine themselves to the 19th and early 20th centuries and run along well-worn tracks. It is wonderful indeed to hear two substantial Purcell works Te Deum, My beloved spake and with instrumental rather than organ accompaniment. The other works are Elgar’s Te Deum, Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb, and Howells’s ‘Collegium Regale’ Te Deum, making the disc a cleverly thought-out and most engaging sequence. This is music-making of an inspired and magical kind, and I recommend these fine performances without reservation.
American Record Guide, May/June 2011
Ah, yet more sweet sounds from a most excellent English church choir I’m not familiar with—at least not beyond their still-famous 1927 recording of Mendelssohn’s Hear my Prayer with solo treble Ernest Lough. The Temple Church—a round edifice modeled after the circular Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (a rectangular Chancel was added later)—has a particularly interesting history, dating back to its consecration in 1185 as the home church of the fabled Knights Templar. Scenes from The Da Vinci Code movie were filmed there. Here we are treated to an oh-so- English assortment of mostly traditional liturgical music on the subject of praise.
Liturgical settings of the classic Te Deum text—together with their associated Jubilate sections—are normally heard as morning canticles. But, as pointed out in the useful notes, some examples are considered “festal” rather than liturgical, and we get three highly varied examples here that encompass both types.
While it certainly sounds festive, Henry Purcell’s sturdy and lavish setting, with string orchestra plus trumpets, was indeed written—complete with Jubilate—for liturgical use in 1694, and has a long history of regular performances at St Paul’s Cathedral. Apparently the first known accompanied setting of the text in English, the work is an opulent tumble of skillfully juxtaposed passages for choir, sub- ensembles, and soloists. The remaining liturgical example is by Herbert Howells, from his well-known ‘Collegium Regale’ (King’s College) set of morning and evening canticles.
The Festal variety of Te Deum settings is represented by Edward Elgar’s effort, from his Op. 34 set. Written for the opening service of the 1897 Three Choirs Festival at Hereford Cathedral, the piece—despite its organ accompaniment here—retains a strong symphonic feel. Its moods range from soft and deeply personal reverence to brash Victorian bluster. By far the most unusual (and longest) piece here is Benjamin Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb, setting a strange and whimsical, yet powerful text by Christopher Smart from around 1760, while he was confined to an asylum. The text speaks of praise from all corners and aspects of God’s creation—flowers, musical instruments, and assorted animals— even the author’s own cat, Jeoffrey, whose praise is expressed by “wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness” (there’s also a “mouse…of great personal valor”). Britten, as you might expect, responded to these oddly moving verses with his own touches of offbeat musical whimsy—yet the piece remains a deep and inspiring vehicle for potent praise.
There’s another, much earlier work from Purcell, too: his My Beloved Spake (also with strings), setting the well-known text from the Song of Solomon. Set mostly for assorted soloists (and, like his Te Deum, also strings supported), the work implies praise for the earth’s springtime beauties rather than stating it outright.
The Temple Church Choir is a typical boy treble cathedral ensemble that’s fully on a par with the better choirs of its kind around England. But, at least to my ears, their treble sonorities seem to have more of a boyish ring than in typical cathedral choirs that tend to cultivate a purer, more sexless sound—that is not a complaint. Boys and men alike perform with great skill, confidence, and spiritual sensitivity in often highly demanding music. The many soloists acquit themselves very well; the countertenor is particularly good. Instrumental support—in period style—is first-rate. Add very good engineering and a solid booklet, and the end result is a highly appealing collection that any English choral fan will appreciate.