Given his fine achievements with the Finzi Singers, Paul Spicer is exactly the person to guide today’s burgeoning vocal talent into an appreciation of English choral music of the last 150 years. He does so here with excellent results in a generous program of 25 songs.
Overshadowed by his successes in church music, Stanford’s partsongs show him alive to the myriad musical possibilities of text and a deep respect for the tradition of the Elizabethan madrigal.
Many are settings of anonymous Elizabethan lyrics with the usual nymphs and shepherds, whilst others set the poetry of friends: Mary Coleridge and Alfred Lord Tennyson (Stanford memorialized Tennyson in 1892 with a heartfelt setting of the 57th canto from In Memoriam). Amongst highlights are the haunting and deservedly well known The Blue Bird (the solo exquisitely sung by Natalie Hyde), the imposing double-choir setting of Milton’s On Time, an evocative treatment of Mary Coleridge’s The train and the elegant When Mary thro’ the garden went.
The Birmingham students sing with vibrant, crystalline tone and exemplary diction, always underlining the meaning of the texts. Occasionally there is some overindulgence, as in Out in the windy west, a paean to Queen Victoria, but the abiding impression is of interesting, beautifully sung music. I look forward to more intrepid fare from these young performers.