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William Knapp: West Gallery Anthems and Psalms

Christminster Singers

Cover design

CD XMS 001

Long Ham Tune - "To celebrate thy praise, O Lord" (Ps 9)
Anthem from Psalm 26 - "Be thou my Judge O Lord"
Corfe Castle Tune - Let all the Lands with Shouts of Joy" (Ps 66)
Blandford Tune - "Thou Lord, by strictest search" (Ps 139)
Anthem from Psalm 72 - "Give the King thy Judgements"
Funeral Hymn - "My Life's a shade, my days"
Anthem from Revelations 1 - "I heard a great voice"
Durweston Tune - Lord number out my life and days" (Ps 39)
Anthem from Psalm 18 - In my trouble I call'd upon the Lord"
Knowl Tune - "The Lord hath spoke" (Ps 50)
Anthem from Job 7 for Funerals - "Is there not an appointed time"
Song of the Angels - "While Shepherds watch'd their flocks"
Ham-Preston Tune - "Thou in the morn my voice shalt hear" (Ps 5)
Anthem from Psalm 34 - "I will always give thanks"
Bere Tune - "Erect your heads, eternal gates" (Ps34)
Anthem from Isaiah 9 v6 for Christmas Day - "Unto us a child is born"
Long-Fleet Tune - "The Lord to thy request attend" (Ps 20)
Anthem from Psalm 147 v1 - "O praise the Lord, for it is a good thing"

Listen to a verse of Corfe Castle Tune

Review by Tony Singleton (March 1996)

This CD is to be welcomed for two reasons. Firstly, it is a collection devoted to one composer, William Knapp (1698 - 1768), and will greatly improve our knowledge of his music. Although he only published two collections of sacred music in 1738 and 1751, they both ran to many editions and his music was plagiarised and republished by many other composers, so that he had a profound effect on parish church music over the next century. Secondly, it is a refreshing change to hear a collection of WG music without a single instrument. It seems the norm nowadays (I suspect WGMA weekends are largely responsible for this) to have at least one instrument on each vocal part with as many serpents, bassoons and 'cellos as possible on the bass line. My researches in the southeast suggest that many church quires probably never had instruments until the last two decades of the 18th century and then only a bassoon or 'cello playing an obbligato. Even in the 19th century, it might be mentioned that Thomas Clark and his contemporaries wrote symphonies usually with only three parts, which suggests that the alto vocal part was not supported instrumentally (discuss).

The CD includes 18 items, 8 anthems and 10 Psalm settings, and admirably achieves the avowed intention of showing off Knapp's musical inventiveness. Thirteen members of the quire are credited in the insert which contains useful background information on William Knapp and the Country Psalmody Tradition, written by Dave Townsend. Dave has put a great deal of time and effort into this project, researching and transcribing the music even before putting it in front of the Christminster Singers and is to be commended for his work. I know from having attended workshops led by Dave during the last two years that the project has been gestating for at least that long.

In spite of many quite dramatic tempo changes the quire never falters, diction is excellent and every note is made to count. The rhythm is strong throughout and some pieces fairly drive along eg Knowl tune, Corfe Castle tune, Blandford tune, and ... I could go on and on. It really sounds as if the choir are enjoying the music. I noticed that the arrangement of 'A Funeral Hymn' bears more than a passing resemblance to Larry Gordon's setting on The Heavenly Meeting CD released last year. The only difference is that Christminster omit verse 5, and verse 2 is not quite so assured. I have subsequently discovered that Larry borrowed the arrangement and recorded it first! The two CDs also share wonderful cover designs by Tom Bower, the creator of those striking scraperboard illustrations in the grey edition of Northern Harmony.

I particularly like the voices of Andy Turner and Ian Giles who are to be heard to good effect as soloists in 'An Anthem from Psalm the 18th' aka 'The earthquake anthem' and I also love hard-edged alto voices, or as Dave (and Knapp) prefers to call them, 'counters'. All three altos in the choir acquit themselves well in the solos, but really come into their own in 'An Anthem for Christmas', which is performed by the ladies only, and works very well. At a time when choirs were all male and the trebles and counters were boys, however, I doubt whether Knapp would have approved. While some soloists are accomplished and hold their lines well, it seems that there was an executive decision to give everybody a solo, which results in one or two shaky moments. However these blemishes apart, the standard of performance and recording quality is very high.

At this stage, when very few commercial recordings of West Gallery music are available, this CD will act as a benchmark. I know that 3-4 days were spent in putting together this recording in a properly equipped recording studio but I can't help but wonder what it might have sounded like with a little more echo in a parish church. Nevertheless, I recommend you buy it; it is stirring stuff. Play it at full volume; it will raise some gooseflesh and set the spine tingling!

For further details visit The Christminster Singers' website

See details of their CD Let the Echo Fly


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