CD Notes for Four Girls in Harmony

— by James Harrison


The Girls' Quartet from the choir of St Thomas-on-The Bourne, Farnham

Accompanied by Andrew Harrap

Directed by James Harrison


This CD contains a selection of the most beautiful solo, duet, 3-part and 4-part carols, anthems and motets, written or arranged for upper voices, sung by the Girls' Quartet from the Choir of St Thomas-on-The Bourne: April, Beth, Izzy and Molly. There is a variety of both well-known pieces, and pieces that deserve to be better known, from their repertoire of sacred music, from the 16th to the 20th centuries. The CD includes works by Lassus, Handel, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Fauré, and Britten, both a capella and accompanied on piano or organ. The pieces are grouped partly by season (Christmas and Easter) and partly by historical period. The recordings illustrate the Quartet's musical skill, the blending of their voices and accompaniment, and their sheer enjoyment of singing.



The Music

Christmas

1. Tomorrow shall be my dancing day — This is a modern arrangement of a traditional English carol by Andrew Carter, a bass in York Minster Choir. This lively and joyful carol, with dance-like melody arranged for two soprano parts, is a perfect opening for a concert — or a CD.


2 . How far is it to Bethlehem — This is a nativity carol set to another traditional English melody, beautifully arranged by David Willcocks for unaccompanied soprano and alto voices (here transposed for three soprano parts).


3. This little babe is from the "Ceremony of Carols" — Composed for treble voices by Benjamin Britten. A vigorous contrast to the usual nativity carols, it develops from a unison opening to a 2-part and then a 3-part canon, with a stirring unison climax.


4. The Infant King — This again features a traditional folk tune, this time of Basque origin, collected by the Rev Sabine Baring-Gould, who was a prolific novelist, writer of hymns ("Onward Christian Soldiers") and collector of folks songs; he also wrote the words, which are not just those of a simple nativity carol, but look forward to both the suffering of the crucifixion and the joy of Easter. The arrangement for three unaccompanied (soprano and alto) voices is by John Rutter.


Easter

5. O vos Omnes — Tomás Luis de Victoria. The text is from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, mourning the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon: "All ye who pass by, behold and see if there be any sorry like unto my sorrow". Victoria's setting for four unaccompanied voices perfectly captures the bleakness and despair of the words, and was traditionally sung on Good Friday.


6. Stabat Mater — Giovanni Pergolesi. The text is a 13th century hymn, describing Mary, mother of Jesus, as she stands weeping at the foot of the cross. It has been described as "the most perfect and touching duet to come from the pen of any composer". Soloists: April, Molly.


Renaissance to Baroque

7. Confitemini Domino — Alessandro Constantini. This 17th century Italian composer would be almost unknown, if it were not for this joyful hymn of praise for three voices, with its dancelike Allelujas. Sung unaccompanied by April, Izzy and Molly.


8. Allelujah, laus et gloria — Orlando di Lasso. Born in Flanders, but commonly known by the Italian or Latin versions of his name, Lasso was one of the musical giants of the 16th century. As a choirboy in Mons, he was reputedly kidnapped three times for other choirs, because of his beautiful voice. A joyful 4-part hymn of praise, with exciting cross-rhythms.


9. Consacrons nos airs — Francois Couperin. While Couperin is best known as a composer for harpsichord, the arrangement dates from more than a century later, and is by Hector Berlioz, who is better known as a composer for huge orchestras. This is an elegant and flowing 3-part motet, "Let us dedicate our melodies and our varied songs to the creator of the universe". Sung unaccompanied by April, Izzy and Molly.


10. Sound the Trumpet — Henry Purcell. This duet is part of an Ode composed for the birthday of Queen Mary in 1694. Originally written for counter-tenors, this famous duet alternates antiphonal and homophonic sections, and is lively and exciting from start to finish. Soloists: April and Molly


11. He shall feed his flock — George Frideric Handel. A sublime air from Messiah, its pastoral style matching the great words of comfort from Isaiah. This is the version for Alto and Soprano solos. Soloists: Molly and Izzy.


12. Laudamus Te — Antonio Vivaldi. Vivaldi was associated for many years with a girls' orphanage in Venice, for which he may well have composed his best known work, the Gloria, which includes this joyful Laudamus te. Written as a duet for two soprano soloists, here it is sung by all four girls, with two voices to a part.


Classical to Romantic

13. Psalm 23 — Franz Schubert. Schubert wrote this setting of Psalm 23 for four musical sisters, one of whom taught singing at the Vienna conservatory. It was later performed as an examination piece at the conservatory. The original was translated from the Hebrew into German by Felix Mendelssohn's father. Here we sing the English translation by John Rutter, which closely echoes the familiar words of the English Psalter.


14. Terzetto — Felix Mendelssohn. From his Motets for Women's Choir, this setting of the first verse of Psalm 127 was written for 3 soloists and 3 chorus parts (the chorus parts here are played on piano). "Blessed are those who fear the Lord, and who walk in his ways". A beautiful and elegant piece of writing, sung unaccompanied by April, Izzy and Molly.


15. I waited for the Lord — Felix Mendelssohn. From his Cantata-Symphony "Hymn of Praise", this section is written for soprano duet and chorus (here played on piano). A typically balanced and effortless Mendelssohn duet. Soloists: Izzy and Molly.


16. Lift thine eyes — Felix Mendelssohn. From his oratorio "Elijah", this unaccompanied trio is undoubtedly a classic. It may be one of the pieces attributed to Felix which shows the influence (or even composition) of his sister Fanny. Sung by April, Izzy and Molly.

17. Pie Jesu — Gabriel Fauré (1845–1924). From his Requiem, this section portrays calm faith in eternal rest. Fauré preferred this solo to be performed by a female singer. Soloist: April.


18. Cantique de Jean Racine — Gabriel Fauré. Fauré composed this setting of a translation by Racine of an ancient Latin hymn at the age of 19, after 10 years' study at the school of church music in Paris. Originally written for SATB, this version is for 2/3 upper voice parts.


19. Tantum ergo — Gabriel Fauré. A beautiful 3-part setting of a mediaeval hymn by St Thomas Aquinas for the feast of Corpus Christi.


Spiritual

20. Steal away — Spiritual, arranged John C Phillips. One of the finest of spirituals, the hidden message of escape from slavery is obvious. An unaccompanied 4-part arrangement, with marvellous harmonies and great dynamic contrast.



The Choirs of St Thomas-on-The Bourne.

A Choir of Boys and Gentlemen has existed in the church of St. Thomas-on-The Bourne since the early years of the church's foundation in the 1860s. The Girls' Choir was founded in 2004 to run in parallel with the Boys, to give them the same opportunities as boys and enable them to take part in the worship at St Thomas'. St Thomas' is the only parish church in the Diocese of Guildford to maintain separate, but closely linked, choirs of Men, Boys and Girls.

The girl choristers rehearse twice a week and sing three services a month for most of the year, either on their own or with the Choir Gentlemen, and occasionally with the Boys too. In addition to singing services and concerts at St Thomas' and elsewhere locally, in recent years the combined choirs have also sung services in the cathedrals of Hereford, Christchurch (Oxford), Westminster and St Paul's, as well as touring to Belgium (twice), Normandy, Prague and Cologne, and recording a CD 'On Christmas Night'.

During the past few years, under two inspiring Directors of Music, Philip Viveash (2008–2011) and Robert Lewis (since September 2011), the choirs have continually grown stronger, and regularly perform great music to cathedral standards. See Music at St Thomas for more information.


The Girls' Quartet

April West (17), Beth Payne (16), Izzy Edwards (18) and Molly Beere (18) have sung with the Girls' Choir at St Thomas' for some 36 years between them. Since successfully passing their Royal School of Church Music Dean's (Bronze) and Bishop's (Silver) Awards with Commended or Highly Commended grades, April, Izzy and Molly started to sing together regularly as an ensemble in 2016. They were subsequently joined by Beth, and have sung as a trio or quartet in services and concerts at St Thomas', on tour in Cologne and in the Cathedrals of Bruges, Brussels and Ghent, as well as successfully taking part in the Farnham Competitive Music Festival in 2016 and 2017.


Andrew Harrap

Andrew has been learning the piano since the age of 8, studying primarily at the RGS Guildford, with David Jones and Janet Newman. Andrew achieved a high pass in his LRSM diploma in 2014, and continues his studies with Janet Newman. He also achieved a distinction in a Master's degree in Shakespeare in the summer of 2016, with a dissertation on Shakespeare and Byron. Andrew enjoys combining his piano studies with playing the organ regularly during services at St Thomas' church, under the direction of the Organist, Julian Cooper, and Robert Lewis. He has accompanied the Girls' Quartet since they started singing together, and enabled them to develop a wide ranging repertoire, with both piano and organ accompaniment.


James Harrison

James was a chorister at York Minster for two years under Francis Jackson. He followed his daughter Anna into the choir at St Thomas' more than 10 years ago, after being press-ganged when the choir was on tour to Hereford Cathedral. As well as singing in the Men's Choir, he has had the good fortune to work with Andrew and the Girls' Quartet, with professional guidance from Linda Sprague.



Credits

Vocal coach: Linda Sprague

Recording Engineer: Jeremy Mardel

Inlay designer: Louise Healey

Photography: Alison Payne


Recorded at St Thomas-on-The Bourne April – June 2018.


Notes © James Harrison, 2018.