Hark, shepherds, hark
The Madding Crowd
We singers make bold
Hark the glad sound
Awake ye heavenly choirs and sing
Great was the joy displayed abroad
Hark the herald angels sing
Come let us all with heart and voice
O may we all rejoice
Anthem for the Nativity from St.Luke Chap 2 - Joseph Stephenson
Angels from the realms of glory - Thomas Merritt
Anthem for the Nativity - Henry Tolhurst
When Jordan hush'd his waters still - Thomas Campbell
Shepherds rejoice - Thomas Clark
A Saviour sinner
Hark, shepherds, hark
Arise and hail
Me thinks I hear a soft still voice - Milford by Joseph Stephenson
Be merry all
Hark those hallelujahs pealing
While shepherds watched
The CD can be obtained by sending a cheque for £8 (+ £1.60 for p&p), made out to 'The Madding Crowd', to Mike Bailey, 4 Grove Road, Shawford, WINCHESTER, Hants SO21 2DD.
Review by Ken Baddley, Spring 2005
A CD from The Madding Crowd has been long awaited. There has been no lack of recordings of them over the 30 years of their existence as a performing group; they have made several appearances on radio and TV, for instance, but they have not produced a commercially available recording until now. The Madding Crowd are the type-specimen of the revived amateur West Gallery quire, and that the recordings available have not until now included a CD of their music, recorded by them, has been a significant omission.
It has been worth the wait, however. They have continued in the uncompromised tradition of painstaking research which their founder member Rollo Woods set down as a benchmark (and which has become the paradigm for West Gallery research) and with their new recording Hark, Shepherds, Hark, a selection from their Christmas repertoire, have provided a very valuable addition to the West Gallery canon of recordings.
The sleeve-notes are a well-produced 10-page booklet containing all the texts used, in which an obviously comprehensive knowledge of the music, its sources, and its geographical and social context is compressed into a short paragraph on each piece. These notes are written in a very readable and almost anecdotal style, but are in fact microcosmic super-distillations of information, the product of first class research and The Madding Crowd's long association with the material.
The music on this recording includes both their oldest and their most recent research. It may be by way of tribute to Rollo Woods that this album includes "Come let us all with heart and voice" which he transcribed from Widecombe manuscript HF7 (he records in Good Singing Still [WGMA 1995] that this was one of the first pieces from the Hermon French manuscripts ever performed, at an evensong on 6th July 1975) and which hasalmost every one of the characteristics of this type of music which rendered it so very objectionable to the ears of Keble, Pusey, Froud and Newman and their Oxford colleagues. It has instrumental opening symphonies and interludes, repeated lines, attenuated lines ("He left His Father's; He left His Father's glorious home") and even an echo of that relative rarity, the dialogue hymn, in the lines of the chorus which are sung by all the voices and then answered by the soprano voices solo.
The piece is, incidentally, also a showcase for the fine playing of serpentist Peter Hackston, whose capacity to hit a perfectly-centred tongued note every time up and down the arpeggios of this piece is much to be admired. Track 21 ("Hark Those Hallelujahs Pealing") shows him to even better advantage and also calls for the full dynamic range of the instrument, having him provide piano the solo instrumental support for the female voices and then setting him a few bars later double forte against the full vocal chorus in the final "Hallelujahs crown the song". He is one of very few amateur players of this instrument to have mastered it to this extent.
Ros Clements' transcription of "Awake ye Heavenly Choirs and Sing" from a West Lulworth manuscript, is very recent in comparison. As the sleeve-notes say, the piece seems to be an enthusiastic early nineteenth century compilation of favourite lines, and it is sung here in characteristic Madding Crowd style, which is to say very well rehearsed and musically tight, but still giving the impression of unrestrained exuberance in places such as those where the basses execute (as they so often do) a joyous controlled tumble down a descending scale, and those in which the'firewall' altos of The Madding Crowd force a loud single G right through the harmonic structure, and on (and on, for a bar and three-quarters) towards the final cadence of the piece. It is stirring stuff indeed, and worth hearing over several times for the full effect.
The fourth track on the album (Seraphic Minstrels) may be better known to listeners by the title "Sound, Sound Your Instruments of Joy" and it does, to coin a phrase, exactly what it says on the tin. Sarah Lewin, who plays the run in quavers up the C major scale which gives the singers their entry, must be among the most agile of cellists; she plays a style which often tends towards the spiccato anyway (according with the rule of thumb for West Gallery music which lays down that the instrumentalists should generally be playing shorter notes than the singers are singing) but the attack with which she approaches these rapid passages is breathtaking, all the more so in that she manages to play as 'physically'' as this with no loss of accuracy whatever. Her playing is simply spectacular.
Having singled out Peter Hackston and Sarah Lewin for special mention, it seems only fair to point out that The Madding Crowd instrumentalists are as good collectively as they are individually. To have brought together players of this standard as an amateur group can only have been either sheer serendipity or a tribute to the skill of their musical director. The music must, of course, have been a major attraction in order to have kept musicians of such talent coming back for more for so long, but one is inclined to guess that these highly-skilled players relish the challenge of working to Mike Bailey's uncompromising and exacting standards. It is these standards, in the final analysis, which have resulted in an album of this quality.
Listen to an MP3 file (26 secs; 423Kb) of Hark, shepherds hark