Nearer, my God, to Thee
Hymns of Arthur Sullivan
Scottish Festival Singers
|1.||Onward! Christian soldiers||Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924)||St. Gertrude|
|2.||Hallelujah! Hallelujah!||Christopher Wordsworth (1807-1885)||Lux Eoi|
|3.||Hushed was the evening hymn||James Drummond Burns (1823-1864)||Samuel|
|4.||To Thee, O Lord, our hearts we raise||William Chatterton Dix (1837-1898)||Golden Sheaves|
|5.||Nearer, my God, to Thee||Sarah Flower Adams (1805-1848)||Propior Deo|
|6.||Lead, kindly Light||John Henry Newman (1801-1890)||Lux in Tenebris|
|7.||Courage, brother! Do not stumble||Norman Macleod (1812-1872)||Courage, Brother|
|8.||"For My sake and the gospel's, go"||Edward Henry Bickersteth (1825-1906)||Bishopgarth|
|9.||Safe home||tr. John Mason Neale (1818-1866)||Safe Home|
|10.||Angel voices, ever singing||Francis Pott (1832-1909)||Angel Voices|
|11.||I'm but a stranger here||Thomas Rawson Taylor (1807-1835)||St. Edmund|
|12.||Lord, in this Thy mercy's day||Isaac Wiliams (1802-1865)||Lacrymae|
|13.||Who trusts in God, a strong abode||tr. Benjamin Hall Kennedy (1804-1889)||Constance|
|14.||The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended||John Ellerton (1826-1893)||St. Clement|
This CD presents fourteen of Sullivan's 60+ hymns. (See the complete list of Sullivan's hymns.) The publisher, Kingsway, specializes in religious recordings, this selection being part of a series called "The Hymnmakers." The choral singing is first-rate, offering a wonderful introduction to this neglected facet of Sullivan's oeuvre. The vast majority of Sullivan's hymns were written before 1875, when his partnership with Gilbert took him in other directions and he no longer needed to write this type of music for money.
The accompanying notes (not credited, although I believe the Rev'd Ian Bradley wrote them) offer a wealth of detail. The words of all the tunes are supplied, along with a short essay about each hymn and a longer essay about the hymns generally. It is especially gratifying to find a note-writer who accepts the variability in Sullivan's output:
It is impossible to listen to or sing Sullivan's greatest hymn tunes without feeling that they are the work of a man with deep spiritual feelings, if not of conventional religiosity. It is certainly true that Sullivan's hymn tunes are exceedingly variable in quality — when they are bad, they are very, very bad. But when they are good, and what I regard as the best of them are collected on this album, they have an extraordinary ability to enhance the spiritual power and message of the texts.
The final hymn in this compilation, "The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended," is usually attributed to the Anglican clergyman Clement Scholefield. The tune ("St. Clement") became one of the most popular of the Victorian era. However, it appeared in Church Hymns and Tunes, which Sullivan edited, and in the preface to that volume Sullivan admits that the various hymn composers had adopted many of his suggestions on melody and harmony. Those responsible for this CD feel that "St. Clement" is so suggestive of Sullivan, and the tune so far above anything else that Scholefield wrote, that it can and should fairly be attributed to Sullivan.
Paul Ensell wrote:
My first impressions were that 45 mins of non stop hymns is rather dull (especially when all with the same choir and organ), and that the choice of Hymns for my forthcoming wedding was not going to be changed!
But I then listened carefully, and separated the tunes out a little, so that they became individuals, and this became at once a very different CD. Hearing a full choir singing hymns I've only seen written down before was very interesting, and I like the reasoning behind "The day Thou gavest"!
The CD is well presented, with good liner notes (introduction, words to each hymn, and a not so brief comment on each tune). There are a few problems with the notes — it's not often we see a CD that has totally accurate liner notes! (e.g., I hadn't realised Longfellow wrote The Light of the World).
All in all, it's a CD worth possessing, and another interesting addition to this year's glut of new recordings.
(The error in the notes to which Paul referred seems to result from a confusion with The Golden Legend, which Longfellow did write.)
You can find the score and lyrics for every hymn that Sullivan either wrote or arranged, and MIDI files for many of them, at the G&S Archive.