In Celebration of the Human Voice - The Essential Musical Instrument
The Holst Singers are one of Britain's foremost choirs, described by the BBC as "a leading chorus on the international stage". In addition to their busy concert diary, they frequently broadcast on Classic FM and BBC Radio 3, and regularly record for leading classical labels. With the support of their President, James Bowman, and Musical Director, Stephen Layton, the choir has developed an interest in exploring new and neglected works as well as core choral repertoire.
Recent CD releases include Ikon II, the long awaited sequel to Ikon (1997), a disc that immediately became a cult classic and a best-seller. Ikon II brings together a selection of Russian choral masterpieces in an extraordinary disc which is immediately enthralling. Recently reviewed on BBC Radio 3 Record Review, the disc was describled as "impeccable... so, so well-conceived" and Jeremy Summerly, the guest-reviewer commented on the choir's "phenomenal sound".
Other notable recordings include Veljo Tormis (Hyperion), The Tavener Collection (Decca) which followed the critically accalaimed performances of which the Times commented "I don't think I shall hear singing this year more thrilling" and led to a BBC Proms performance. Schnittke's Choir Concerto (Hyperion), Ikon (including music by Part, Sviridov, Gorecki and Tchaikovsky), Gretchaninov's Vespers, and settings of Shakespeare songs and English folk songs by Vaughan Williams in Over Hill, Over Dale.
Recent highlights include a tour to Estonia in 2009, Bach Motets at Temple Church and Merton College, Oxford, 'Briton and the Baltics' programme at Cadogan Hall featuring Rio Grande with City of London Sinfonia, a candlelight performance of Rachmaninoff's Vespers "...absolutely focused in attack, phrasing and intonation" and The Planets with Houston Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican. Future engagements include a project with Imogen Heap at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, several concerts at the VOICES NOW festival at Roundhouse, Camden and a tour to Santiago da Compostela with the Hilliard Ensemble.
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Review: In 1997, the Holst Singers and Stephen Layton produced a disc that immediately became a cult classic and a best-seller. 'Ikon', a selection of great Russian choral music from the 19th century, dazzled with its grand, opulent beauty. Now the same forces return with Ikon II. Many of the works recorded here are by composers whose names will not be familiar - but the extraordinary quality of the music is unmistakable and immediately enthralling. This recording centres on music produced by a group of composers linked to the Moscow Synodal School of Church Singing, famous for its choir (comprising men and boys) at the beginning of the twentieth century. These composers made, up to the time of the momentous events of 1917, a significant contribution to the future of Russian choral music, one that, while never forgotten in Russia, is now also coming to be appreciated in the West. That their work did not emerge from a vacuum is made evident here by the inclusion of music by earlier composers: Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908), Mili Balakirev (1837-1910) and Cesar Cui (1835-1918).
Songlist: Our Father, Salvation is created, Of thy mystical supper, Let my prayer arise, Let thy good spirit, Bless the Lord, O my soul, The Cherubic Hymn, Come, let us worship, Come, let us worship, We hymn thee, Rejoice, O Virgin, Bless the Lord, O my sold, Our Father, Rejoice, O Virgin, We hymn thee, Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous, Let all mortal flesh keep silence, We have no other help, All of creation rejoices in you, The Thrice-Holy
Review: Vaughan Williams's small-scale choral works are a comparatively lesser-known aspect of his art. The majority of these compositions arose from his folksong-collecting activities at the turn of the century; this recording brings some of his finest folksong arrangements together with other a cappella works. They cover the whole of the composer's long career. The Holst Singers are the foremost amateur choir in London. Under their musical director Stephen Layton they regularly perform on Radio 3 and Classic FM and in the major concert venues. The choir is joined for several songs by the renowned soloists Ian Bostridge and Michael George.
Songlist: Loch Lomond, Full Fathom Five, The Cloud-Capp'd Towers, Over Hill, Over Dale, Alister McAlphine's Lament, An Acre Of Land, The Seeds Of Love, Ca' The Yowes, The Dark-Eyed Sailor, The Spring Time Of The Year, Just The Tide Was Flowing, The Lover's Ghost, Wassail Song, The Winter Is Gone, Mannin Veen, Bushes And Briars, Down Among The Dead Men, Sweet Day, O Mistress Mine, The Willow Song
Review: This pioneering new recording - a showcase for the virtuoso talents of the Holst Singers - presents all fifteen of Villette's unaccompanied choral works and his two motets for choir and organ. Pierre Villette might best be regarded as a stylistic bridge between Debussy and Faure on the one hand and Poulenc and Messiaen on the other. A world rich in the familiarities of Gregorian chant infuses much of his choral output, while ambitious chromaticisms and textural gestures create effects which are at once spiritual and sensuous. This is the music of private prayer set in the context of an incense-filled Gothic Uber-Cathedral. Under their long-standing director of music Stephen Layton, the Holst Singers have established themselves firmly at the top of the country's league of chamber choirs. This new programme can only enhance their justly deserved reputation.
Songlist: O Sacrum Convivium Op. 27, Hymne A La Vierge Op. 24, Attende, Domine Op. 45 , Notre Pere D'Aix Op. 75, Inviolata Op. 66, Tu Es Petrus Op. 29, O Quam Suavis Est Op. 76, Strophes Polyphoniques Pour Le Veni Creator Op. 28, Panis Angelicus Op. 80 , O Salutaris Hostia Op. 21 , Ave Verum Op. 3, Salve Regina Op. 5 , O Quam Amabilis Es Op. 71, Jesu, Dulcis Memoria Op. 78, Adoro Te Op. 31, O Magnum Misterium Op. 53
Review: This is a welcome reissue of a fine release, including several gems, performed with spirit and more than mere competence by the Holst Singers and Orchestra under Hilary Davan Wetton. The program starts out with the Two Psalms from 1912, scored for choir, string orchestra and organ, fine but not particularly memorable works. The Six Choruses for male voices and string orchestra op. 53 belong to a different league, but these complex pieces aren't exactly easy listening. The Seven Part Songs op. 44 are very fine works as well - they belong to the period of Egdon Heath and more or less to the same style; and they do indeed exhibit many of the same qualities; they really display Holst's ear for sonorities and delicate but interesting textures. At first listening they might come across as a little austere, but closer attention is rewarded by almost shimmering, subtle beauty. The Evening Watch op. 43 also belongs to the same group, but is in the end a less memorable work. The Nunc Dimittis is lovely.
Songlist: Two Psalms, Psalm 86, Good Friday, How Mighty are the Sabbaths, Drinking Song, The Evening Watch, Say Who Is This?, Angel Spirits of Sleep, Sorrow and Joy, Assemble, All Ye Maidens
Review: The Holst Singers are acclaimed as one of England's greatest non-professional choirs. The talent and commitment of the individual members and the leadership of their mercurial conductor, Stephen Layton, ensure that their performances are always of the very highest standards. Veljo Tormis (born 1930) is - along with Arvo Part - Estonia's most famous living composer, holding an almost mystic status in his home country. He is also the passionate and practical torch-bearer for folk-singing revival, and the integration of an ancient cultural inheritance into thoroughly modern, post-Soviet lives. Interestingly, he trained at the Moscow Conservatory and was steeped in Soviet instruction during his early musical life. His music is almost all written for choirs; few other composers have been so committed to one genre. Tormis's choral specialization marks him out from Bartok, Kodaly, Vaughan Williams and Grainger, whose pioneering interest in folksong was ultimately limited to the use of textless tunes in instrumental or orchestral works. For Tormis, the words and the music are inseparable. The Holst Singers have recently been invited to Estonia to perform Tormis's music - a great honor, and a mark of their mastery of this repertoire.
Songlist: Early summer's fairy tale, Soundlessly somewhere murmurings homeward, The grindstone game, The finger-binding game, The ship game, O, my gentle tender mother, Daughters of the Meadow Matron, The wave Rolls, Waking the birds, At Pasture, Shrovetide, Wee winkie mouse, Sang the father, sang the son, Singing aboard ship, It is late summer, Clouds are racing, Pale Light, Painfully red are the leaves, Wind over the barrens, Cold autumn night, Heather, I sing for my child, It's time for the little berry to sleep, Let the cradle swing!, Lulling, Childhood memory
Review: Grechaninov was initially taught by Anton Arensky in Moscow, and then later, in 1890, he went to St Petersburg to study with Rimsky-Korsakov. It was he who influenced his style and helped him launch his professional career. After the Revolution, Grechaninov became increasingly uneasy in Soviet Russia, and in 1925 left for ever. In 1946 he took American citizenship. An unusually versatile and prolific composer, he wrote operas, symphonies, chamber music, over 250 songs, and a great deal of music for children. He has been described as the most representative composer of his generation writing for the Orthodox service. Vespers is part of the All-Night Vigil service, and Grechaninov's setting was composed, premiered, and published in 1912. This precedes Rachmaninov's setting by three years. It appears to have lain dormant for some eighty years until it was revived in America for its first performance of modern times in 1995.
Songlist: Now the Powers of Heaven, In Thy Kingdom, Lord, now Lettest Now Thy Servant, All Night Vigil