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"Awake & Join the Cheerful Choir - Gallery Hymns and Carols from the 18th & 19th Centuries"

Maddy Prior (voice) & The Carnival Banda; The Mellstock Band & Choir/Nick Hooperb

rec: Recorded May 1986b & February 1987a at The Meeting House, Frenchay, near Bristol; March 1990 at Valley Recordings, Littleton-on-Severn (UK)a
Saydisc Records - CDSDL442 (R) ( 2016) (78'32")
Liner-notes: E; no lyrics
Cover & track-list

anon: Arise and hail the joyful dayb; Awake and join the cheerful choirb; Awake awake ye mortals allb; Behold the morning starb; Christ the Lord is risen today (1708)a; Light of the world (1798)a; Lo he comes with clouds descending (1765/1780)a; Lord, in the morning (c1726)a; Rejoice this glorious day is comeb; Rejoice ye shining worlds (c1760)a; See heaven's high portalsb; The God of Abraham praise (1780)a; Unto us a boy is born (German medieval)a; While shepherds watchedb; [Thomas Augustine Arne (1710-1778)]: Away with our sorrow and carea; [Thomas Campbell (1777-1844)]: And can it be?a; [William Croft (1678-1727)] (attr): O worship the Kinga; [James Ellor (1819-1899)]: All hail the power of Jesus' namea; [Thomas Jarman (1776-1861)]: O for a thousand tongues to singa; [Samuel Stanley (1767-1822)]: O thou who camest from abovea; trad: A virgin most purea How firm a foundationa Infant holy (Poland)a Who would true valour seea [Hugh Wilson (1766-1824)]: As pants the hearta

[TCB] Bill Badley, voice, lute, guitar, steel-string guitar, mandolin, mandocello, banjo; Charles Fullbrook, voice, tabors, side drum, bass drum, cymbals, wood blocks, cowbell; 'Jub', double bass; Giles Lewin, voice, recorder, violin; Andy Watts, voice, curtal, bassoon, clarinet in C, recorder
[TMB&C] Caroline Ritson, Mandy Townsend, Jane Weir, soprano (treble); Megan Hooper, soprano (counter); Keith Dandridge, Andy Turner, tenor; Dave Parry, bass; Ian Blake, bass, boxwood clarinet; Paul Burgess, bass, fiddle; Flos Headford, bass, fiddle; Martin Brinsford, bass, drums, tambourine; Gordon Tyrrall, flute; Dave Townsend, serpent, fiddle; Lowri Blake, cello

The singing of hymns is common practice in Christian churches all over the world. That was not always the case. The present disc carries us to the English countryside of the 18th and 19th centuries. Until the late 17th century the congregation sang only metrical psalms to a limited number of tunes, without instrumental accompaniment, led by the parish clerk. Around 1700 this started to change. First the number of tunes for the metrical psalms was extended, for instance by Isaac Watts in his collection of Psalms of David of 1719.

Watts also wrote hymns on free texts and this kind of sacred music was enthusiastically embraced by the Wesley brothers, John and Charles. Hymns were often sung in open-air meetings, at first to the old psalm tunes. But soon new melodies were written, often in a style which was not very different from that of secular music. Initially hymn singing was largely confined to nonconformist congregations, especially the Methodists where the Wesleys played a major role. In the Anglican church the authorities rejected the introduction of hymns, but with time they couldn't resist their growing popularity. The growing number of hymn books which came from the press testifies to this development.

The programme includes hymns as they were sung in the 18th and 19th centuries. Not only the repertoire changed, but the same goes for performance practice. Choirs were introduced as well as instruments of the kind played on this disc: clarinet, serpent, flute, fiddle, cello, guitar and various percussion instruments. The late 18th century saw the publication of hymn books with 'symphonies': instrumental preludes and interludes for instruments.

Several of the hymns in the programme are still frequently sung, such as Who would true valour see, Lo he comes with clouds descending and O for a thousand tongues to sing. The composers of the tunes are mostly unknown. However, some are set to tunes by composers who were well known in their time, such as Thomas Augustine Arne (Away with our sorrow and care whose melody is taken from the oratorio The Death of Abel) and William Croft to whom the tune of O worship the King is attributed. As these tunes were not originally connected to the texts to which they are sung here I have put these names between brackets.

As one expects from hymns which have been part of worship through the centuries melodies have often changed. This is the case with German hymns written in the wake of the Lutheran Reformation which often had changed considerably when Bach included them in his cantatas and oratorios. It isn't any different here. "In preparing the music we looked at eighteenth and early nineteenth century hymn books and in many cases restored the melodies and harmonies to their original form". That makes this disc all the more interesting: we have the opportunity here to hear the hymns as they were originally conceived.

Don't expect any of the sophisticated singing which we are used to hear from the cathedral and college choirs in, for instance, BBC Radio 3's broadcasts of Choral Evensong, or even in community singing in Songs of Praise of BBC TV. The Mellstock Band and Choir attempt to sing and play according to what may have been common in the 18th and 19th centuries, but obviously we can never be sure. Maddy Prior and The Carnival Band perform in the style of folk music.

This is a most fascinating disc. As the recordings date from between 1986 and 1990 I assume they were first released on vinyl. The reissue on CD is very welcome. Both lovers of traditional hymns and lovers of (English) folk music will enjoy it. It is just a shame that the lyrics are omitted.

Johan van Veen ( 2018)

Relevant links:

The Carnival Band
The Mellstock Band

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