BERNARD ROSE Feast Song for St Cecilia.1 3 Addison Anthems. Evening Canticles in c.2 Evening Canticles: The Chichester Service.3 Chimes.4 Upon Westminster Bridge.5 If I could tell you. Slow, slow, fresh fount. Lines for the Magdalen Choir. 2 Carols: A Christmas Carol: The Christ Child; Our Blessed Lady’s Lullaby.6 Behold, I Make All Things New.7 The Lord’s Prayer. Lilia agricolae.8 Lord, I have loved. O God, who didst give the law to Moses. Praise ye the Lord • Gregory Rose, cond; 2, 4, 7, 8Ene Salumäe (org); 1–3, 6, 8Annika Löhmus, 3Karolina Kriis (sop); 3Marianne Pärna (alt); 3, 5, 7Raul Mikson (ten); 3, 6Rainer Vilu (bar); Estonian P C Ch • TOCCATA 0307 (66:59 )
The Church of England has continued to produce a rich lineage of sacred choral music of the highest caliber throughout the 20th century, with Herbert Howells being arguably the greatest representative. But for those who find even the relatively conservative forays of Howells into dissonance a bridge too far, the compositions of Bernard William George Rose (1916–1996) provide an alternative they can readily embrace. Born in Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire (I love such British place names), he was a chorister and occasional organist at Salisbury Cathedral from 1925 to 1931, where he was a protégé of renowned organist Walter Galpin Alcock (1861–1947). He then studied at the Royal College of Music from 1933 to 1935 and St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge from 1935 to 1939. An appointment as organist and lecturer at Queen’s College, Oxford was short-circuited by a call to military service in 1940. Captured in the aftermath to the D-Day invasion, he spent 10 months in a German POW camp, where he was allowed to compose and make arrangements for the camp orchestra. Upon his release in 1945, Rose returned to his post at Oxford. In 1957 he accepted a call to a post as organist and Informator Choristarum (master of the choristers) at Magdalen College, Oxford, which he held until his retirement in 1981. There he achieved a considerable reputation as a tutor, with his pupils including Geoffrey Bush, Joseph Horovitz, Michael Hurd, Kenneth Leighton, Harry Christophers, David Wulstan, and his own son Gregory. Among his other notable accomplishments were directing the world premiere of Vaughan Williams’s An Oxford Elegy in 1952, serving as president of the Royal College of Organists from 1974 to 1976, and editing for publication over some four decades the complete works of Thomas Tompkins. Among his circle of friends and colleagues were Gerald Finzi, Herbert Howells, Egon Wellesz, and Leopold Stokowski (who often stayed with Rose during visits to England).
Rose’s very brief (less than 90 seconds) Versicles and Responses from 1957 (not featured here) has become standard fare in Anglican church choirs worldwide for services of Evensong. This disc is, so far as I can find, the first one entirely devoted to works of Rose, including several premiere recordings: The Chichester Service; Upon Westminster Bridge; If I could tell you; Slow, slow fresh fount; Lines for the Magdalen Choir; Behold, I Make All Things New; Lilia agricolae; O God, who didst give the law to Moses. Of the rest, I can readily locate as being in print only two prior recordings of the Feast Song for Saint Cecilia. In the booklet notes, Gregory Rose cites Finzi (readily apparent) and Britten (far less evident) as major influences upon his father’s compositional style. It is all music that I would describe as demonstrating high professional craftsmanship but not genius, being distinctive but not original; it breaks no new pathways, but always has its own voice within an established tradition, and a fine one at that. (A walking tread of quarter notes for the words “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace” to the Nunc dimittis in the Evening Canticles, reminiscent of the bass line in the opening of Elgar’s First Symphony, exemplifies Rose’s typically intelligent appropriation of the work of great predecessors.) Every piece is unfailingly well wrought, falling pleasingly upon the ear and aptly illustrating its text; substantive and complex, but not unduly difficult. All are of brief duration, the longest single movement (the Saint Cecilia) being just under five minutes. This is in short the kind of repertoire for which well-drilled church choirs yearn, and which pleases many congregations as well.
It would seem to be carrying coals to Newcastle to employ an Estonian choir (27 members strong here) to record Anglican choral music for a British CD label, but any such thoughts are banished upon hearing this disc. The English diction of the singers is immaculate and crystal clear, and moreover under the exemplary leadership of Gregory Rose the group also has a genuine English cathedral choir sound, no mean feat. Every other aspect of the singing is exemplary. Organist Ene Salumäe is quite capable in his turns as choir accompanist and his one brief solo foray (Chimes). The recorded sound captures the choir with ideal clarity and balance. The elegant booklet includes all texts, detailed notes by Gregory Rose, artist bios, a roster of choir members, and a brief appreciative remembrance by Joseph Horovitz. If Anglican choral music is your cup of vocal tea, then this is an ideal serving for an English Breakfast; highly recommended.