The-Monarchs Music Collis Smith CRD 3545 barnard

The Monarch’s Music
The Choir of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle
The Band of The Household Cavalry
Major Paul Collis-Smith and James Vivian (conductors)
Luke Bond (organ)
rec. March 2022, St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle
Sung texts provided
CRD CRD3545 [57]

HRH Queen Elizabeth II died at Balmoral on 8 September 2022. Her funeral took place on 19 September, and the following May her son was crowned King Charles III. Both events took place in Westminster Abbey and were followed on television by millions of people worldwide, as was the Queen’s committal service in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. An important feature of all three services was the prominence given to music.

The first weekend of June 2022 saw a major celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The preparations for that event were therefore well in hand when this album was being recorded at Windsor, and it seems safe to assume that it was originally conceived to tie in with those celebrations. Queen Elizabeth’s death may have removed some of the album’s raison d’être, but in an eloquent booklet essay CRD directors Emma Pauncefort and Tom Pauncefort skilfully place the recording in the context of the end of one era and the beginning of another.

Roughly half of the programme is purely instrumental and played by the Band of The Household Cavalry under its Director, Major Paul Collis-Smith. The Chapel Choir sings the choral works, three of which are conducted by Director of Music, James Vivian. Assistant Director of Music, organist Luke Bond, also has quite a lot of work to do. With such a line-up, you would expect the musical values to be high, and so they are.

The programme begins with a fanfare-full rendering of two verses of the National Anthem, and I was surprised to find how strange it sounds, even at so little remove in time, to hear the words ‘God save our gracious Queen’. Parry’s I was glad is a work of ceremony and pageant rather than intimacy and restraint, and this impression is amplified in the arrangement for military band accompaniment. There is a certain effortful stridency from the upper voices in the more forceful passages, and the same observation can be made about Elgar’s Te Deum, an early work that was originally followed by a Benedictus not performed here. It was judged to be ‘very, very modern’ by its commissioner, George Sinclair of Hereford, the ‘GRS’ of the ‘Enigma’ Variations. It seems fairly tame now, most characteristic of its composer in the gentle passages, especially the affecting close. We perhaps hear more pre-echoes of the mature Elgar in Chanson de Nuit, familiar in its original version for violin and piano or its later orchestral guise, but which receives a tender performance here. Most listeners will find the Pomp and Circumstance Marches better suited to military band treatment. The fourth is played very much as a march, its rapid and rather unyielding four-in-bar rhythm dispatched in only 4¾ minutes. When given as a concert work, most conductors find room for more expressiveness and tend to take longer over the work. Walton’s march Crown Imperial also works well as a military band piece, and is evidence, if evidence were needed, that Walton, in spite of his fairly slim output, was one of the very finest composers of the twentieth century. It is superbly played here, though something strange happens at the very opening, where not quite a whole beat seems to have gone missing. Vaughan Williams’s grand setting of the hymn ‘All people that on earth do dwell’ provides the perfect opportunity for the entire ensemble to make a thoroughly splendid noise.

It was unexpected to find a Britten choral work in this programme that I didn’t already know. A Hymn of St Columba, to a Latin text and organ-accompanied, features a haunting refrain evoking ‘the most righteous King of Kings’. This short and relatively undemanding work is beautifully sung, as is Adrian Batten’s O Sing Joyfully, a short unaccompanied piece that fully lives up to its title. Laurie Johnson died on 16 January this year, less than a month short of his 97th birthday. A musician of great talent and wide interests, he will probably be most remembered for his film and television work. Vivat Regina is a luxuriously sonorous fanfare extracted from a suite whose subject was an earlier queen, Victoria.

The closing passage from Saint-Saëns’ so-called ‘Organ’ symphony finds its way into the programme by the fact that it was commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society. There is nothing equivocal about this particular passage from this particular work and it fits the programme like a glove, especially in its military band guise. It brings the programme to an appropriately exultant close.

William Hedley

Previous review: Nick Barnard (October 2023)

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The National Anthem, arr. trumpet, choir & organ by George Jacob and John Rutter
Charles Hubert Parry (1848-1918)
I Was Glad, trans. Lt. Col. Edward Sills, & adapted by W01 Daniel Shave
Sir William Walton (1902-1983)
Crown Imperial, arr. William Duthoit
Ralph Vaughan Williams (arr.) 1872-1958
All people that on earth do dwell (‘The Old Hundredth’)
Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Te Deum laudamus, Op 34/1
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
A Hymn of St Columba
Edward Elgar
Chanson de Nuit, Op 15/1, arr. Dan Godfrey Junior
Adrian Batten (1603-1714)
O Sing Joyfully
Edward Elgar
Pomp and Circumstance March No 4 in G major, Op 39, trans. Michael Retford
Laurie Johnson (1927-2024)
Vivat Regina
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
Symphony No 3 in C Minor, Op. 78: Finale