This exhilarating program uses the title chorale as a unifying element and combines favorite repertory with some fine lesser-known music. The opening is a striking introduction by Thomas Joyce to the hymn songs of Thankfulness and Praise, and the other eight hymns receive similarly imaginative treatments. Wie schön leuchtet (How brightly shines) is heard in the Mendelssohn chorus form the unfinished oratorio Christus and as the concluding festive hymn. It also appears in four organ settings: a Buxtehude choral fantasia, contrasting preludes by Helmut Walcha and Ludwig Lenel, and a charming setting by Jan Zwart, entitled in Dutch O Heil’ge Geest dall op ons neer (the words on sneer on the box and in the liner are a misspelling). In addition to our colleague Mel Butler, the organists are Thomas Joyce and Roger W. Sherman (who is also producer and editor); Brian Fairbanks appears as flutist and Joyce Ramée as violist.The varied anthems include Leo Sowerby’s Now There Lightens upon Us, The Three Kings by Healey Willan, Peter Hallock’s exquisite Baptism of Christ, the Tribus Miraculis of Luca Marenzio and the In splendenti nube of Peter Philips. Of particular interest is the hymn setting of American composer Cary Ratcliff of the text O Light of Light, Love Given Birth, using Laurence Housman’s translation of a 10th-century Latin text.The choir maintains the exemplary standard of tone, nuance, phrasing and diction that we know from our colleague Peter Hallock’s long tenure at St. Mark’s. The recording is most sympathetic, taking advantage of the superb acoustics of the cathedral. The liner includes notes, biographies, and some texts.Even if all of your Epiphany music has been planned by the time you read this review, buy this disc now, enjoy hearing it this year and consider some of its useful ideas for next year.
St. Mark’s Cathedral Choir of Seattle, Wash., reminds us that Epiphanytide is no ordinary time. Its recent recording is a smart collection of choral, hymn, and organ music appropriate for Jan. 6 and the days that follow. This is music, one might say, fit for a king or three. Mendelssohn’s “Behold a Star” from “Jacob Rising” is well paired with the standard hymns such as “We Three Kings,” though in this case with a particularly alluring and exotic introduction. St. Mark’s Cathedral Choir delivers an honest and accessible performance. Few churches are blessed to have a nearly 50-voice, non-professional choir. Choirmaster J. Melvin Butler and his crew allows all the rest of us to hear what the possibilities are.
There is a rather long-standing "inside" joke among those of use who produce Sing For Joy regarding the fact that there is so little music celebrating the Baptism of Christ. One possible reason for this, we think, is that the feast often falls on the same Sunday as the celebration of Epiphany - and there is so much good music written for the season of Epiphany. This disc is a worthy sampling of some of that great music. And thankfully it also includes anthems celebrating the Baptism of Christ! Featuring many of the great hymns of the season, the choir of St. Mark's contributes solid performances of the repertoire with very clear diction and enthusiastic engagement. The real star of the show here, though, is the Cathedral's Iandmark Flentrop pipe organ. Numerous solo organ selections based on the tunes of the Epiphany season show off the organ's singular voice in the unique acoustical properties of the half-finished Cathedral. This disc is a welcome addition to our collection, and could be to yours as well.
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