Shop > John Blow, Symphony Anthems
Choir of New College Oxford
St. James' Baroque
Directed by Robert Quinney
‘the extraordinary fertility of Blow’s imagination has not yet been celebrated
as fully as it deserves’ - Robert Quinney
John Blow – mentor, colleague and friend of Purcell – deserves recognition as a major figure in the flourishing of music that followed the Restoration in 1660. This new recording by New College Choir – its first under the direction of Robert Quinney – includes three previously unrecorded symphony anthems, together with ceremonial works written for the coronation of James II and the consecration of the rebuilt St Paul’s Cathedral. Alongside these, Quinney presents the first performance in 400 years of a newly reconstructed verse anthem. New College Choir and St James’ Baroque, playing period instruments, bring Blow’s innovative and strikingly individual voice vividly to life.
"This is the first album devoted exclusively to John Blow’s church music since the Parley of Instruments and the Choir of Winchester Cathedral collaborated many moons ago for a memorable instalment in Hyperion’s ‘The English Orpheus’ series (3/96). There is only minimal overlap with the six anthems chosen by Robert Quinney for his debut recording at the helm of the Choir of New College, Oxford, and these performances are an assured synthesis of elegant musicality, judicious ear for contrapuntal detail and informed scholarship. Moreover, the players of St James’ Baroque correctly use tenor and bass violins (not anachronistic violas and cellos, nor extraneous double basses), and their bowed instruments use equal tension across all their gut strings; such factors assist the intimacy and elegant poise of the polyphonic ‘symphonies’ played during all but one of the anthems.
"The diligently researched programme covers the scope of Blow’s career, the earliest work being the plangent symphony anthem When Israel came out of Egypt, probably composed for Easter 1674; its concise string symphonies and expressive solo quartet verses are all performed exquisitely. Another less familiar gem in Hear my voice, O God, sung at the Chapel Royal in 1683 in the wake of an assassination plot against Charles II and the Duke of York; the psalm praying for deliverance from enemies presumably struck a poignant chord at court, and this performance achieves a beguiling juxtaposition of penitential strings, shapely choral passages and polished solo singing (notably from the countertenor Alexander Chance).
"At the other end of the scale, God spake sometime in visions was sung at the coronation of James II and Mary of Modena; the eight-part choral singing is relaxed yet luminous, and verse passages are judged beautifully by assorted choristers and clerks. The substantial O sing unto the Lord (1701) features more elaborate solo-voice verses, a sense of dramatic pacing, contrasting moods and textures, and a contrapuntal ‘Alleluia’ refrain that hints towards a proto-Handelian musical language. In Blow’s flamboyant setting of I was glad, composed for the official opening in 1697 of the chancel of Wren’s new St Paul’s Cathedral, two trumpets make radiant contributions to Guy Cutting’s stratospherically high tenor solo ‘The king shall rejoice’ and several choral sections.
"All the works are given splendid performances which not only remind us that there is more to Blow than merely being Purcell’s mentor but also confirm that New College’s famous choir is in very good hands."
Expanded CD booklet notes
"It's wonderful to hear New College Choir - for 38 years led by Edward Higginbottom - in equally excellent form on this first disk under Robert Quinney."
Editor's Choice, Gramophone
1 God spake sometime in visions
2 Hear my voice, O God
3 O sing unto the Lord
4 When the Son of Man
5 When Israel came out of Egypt
6 I was glad
Total Playing time: 1h 13' 05'' DDD
Recorded in St Michael's Church, Summertown, Oxford, July 2015
Released May 2016
Novum: NCR 1389