CD Number 3
This CD, recorded in 2010, comprises another eclectic mixture of styles with increased emphasis on developing our language skills to include Latin, French, Italian, Russian, Hungarian and Geordie.
From almost half a millennium ago come Greensleeves, a traditional English folksong, popular ever since Elizabethan times, Remember, O Thou Man, a Christmas carol by Thomas Ravenscroft (c. 1582-1635, who is credited with first transcribing Three Blind Mice) and El Grillo (The Cricket) by Josquin Des Prez (c. 1450-1521). This latter piece, known in style as a frottola, is supposedly a thinly veiled reminder by the Flemish composer to his patron that faithful musicians, who, like the cricket, perform reliably all day long, are worth more than those who are like flighty birds. We feature two folk-songs with rivers in their titles - The Water of Tyne is a lyrical arrangement of the Geordie ‘anthem’ in which the singer hopes to secure the services of a boatman in order to visit his sweetheart across the water. This theme recurs in many similar songs, Waly Waly and Carrickfergus being two other examples. The Rio Grande, however, has a sailor leaving his loved-ones behind as he voyages across the ocean. This shanty was arranged for us by Stephen Jackson after his original version was premiered by his BBC Symphony Chorus on “Last Night of the Proms”.
To add an international flavour to the recording we have selected two religious pieces by the French composer Poulenc, two of Bartok’s Old Hungarian Folksongs and two contrasting Russian songs, which our Musical Director managed to wheedle from a visiting Russian choir. Poulenc wrote Four Prayers of St. Francis of Assisi in 1948, of which Seigneur, Je Vous En Prie is the third. Ten years later he wrote O Proles in praise of St. Anthony of Padua. By contrast, Bartok’s Four Old Hungarian Folksongs of 1910 contain much more earthy sentiments. Number two tells of a young man’s trip to Budapest for feasting and carousing with the young maidens by the Danube, while number three appears to be a tongue-twisting catalogue of plants grown in the garden of the singer’s brother-in-law! We tried these last two out on a bemused group of Hungarian hotel staff in Sussex and they seemed to understand the meanings, though not the reasons we were singing them! Tackling Russian for the first time presents the added complication of a different alphabet, not to mention some unfamiliar vowel sounds, and we must thank our MD and various ‘consultants’ for preparing phonetic scripts and coaching us at length in pronunciation. Misty Morning is a mid 19th century setting by Abaza of a poem by Turgenev, a well-known Russian poet, in which melancholia and nostalgia for the past are entwined, inviting the listener to reach for the vodka! In a completely different, but no less Russian, mood, The Battalion has Advanced follows the progress of a dashing Cossack charging off into the endless steppe, again mindful of what he leaves behind.
Being true to our roots as an offshoot from an operatic society, we include two well-known choruses from major operas by Gounod and Wagner. The Soldiers’ Chorus from Faust is a celebration of bravery, patriotism and victory (with the by-product of impressing the local womenfolk) in contrast to the Pilgrims’ Chorus from Tannhäuser, which is fervently religious in nature.
Oculi Omnium is a contemporary sacred motet written by Andrew Parnell for the choir of Christ’s College, Cambridge using words from Psalm 145 verse 15. Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen is a well-known spiritual which lends itself to arrangement for male voices. The Tippett version is highly rhythmical, whereas the style of Jonathan Rathbone is much more contemplative. This latter arrangement forms a medley with Deep River and features a solo by our MD, Deborah Miles-Johnson.
The choir is fortunate to have talented arrangers to call upon when looking to increase the range of our material. One of our baritones, William White, produced an atmospheric arrangement of the Louis Jordan and Billy Austin 1944 jazz standard Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby and we were pleased to sing it at the 2007 Cornwall International Male Voice Choral Festival. Meanwhile, the Johnson family collaborated to complete a TTBB version of the Anthem from Chess, a 1984 musical with lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, formerly of ABBA, in which a Russian Grand Master wrestles with the implications of defection to The West.
Realising that the choir needed to find more snappy numbers for its repertoire, our accompanist, Cecily Nicholls, suggested looking at Guys and Dolls as a potential source and our MD rose to the challenge by arranging Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat. Tenor Bernard Tagliavini puts all his musical theatre experience to good use in this ‘epiphanic moment’ number made famous by Stubby Kaye, portraying the (supposedly) reformed gambler Nicely, Nicely Johnson. Our recording ends in relaxed mood with two popular songs expressing, in different ways, the anguish of unrequited love. And So It Goes is an arrangement of a 1983 Billy Joel classic, in which the singer, somewhat enigmatically, laments the ending of a relationship. Finally, Unchained Melody, a memorable tune from a distinctly unmemorable film, concerning an escaped prisoner pining for a lost lover, was one of the most recorded songs of the 20th century. Here we join a long list, which includes Jimmy Young, the Righteous Brothers and, more recently, Pop-Idol winner Gareth Gates.
This recording was completed in 2010 at the Pamoja Hall, Sevenoaks School. The recording engineer was Mike Skeet (tel. 01908 502836).