Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
'Locus Iste' celebrates two milestones for the Choir of St John's College, Cambridge: as well as 2019 marking the 150th anniversary of the consecration of the college chapel, this release is coincidentally the choir's 100th recording - 60 years on from George Guest's iconic first recording of 'Hear My Prayer' for Argo, released in 1959. Rather than assembling a compilation from the archives, Director of Music Andrew Nethsingha gives us an audio snapshot of the choir today by selecting representative pieces of one from each of the 15 decades since the consecration. Of course the membership of any choir changes over the years and a college choir more than most as undergraduates tend to graduate and move on. However the Choir of St John's College continues to be one of the finest collegiate choirs in the world - known and loved by many from its broadcasts, concert tours and recordings as well as its continued presence within the spiritual and musical life of the university and city. Founded in the 1670s, the Choir is admired for its rich, warm and distinctive sound, its expressive interpretations, and its ability to sing in a variety of styles and since the rebuilding of the chapel in the 1860s under the great Gothic Revival architect Sir George Gilbert Scott both choir and congregation have been blessed with a magnificent acoustic, well captured on this disc by Producer Chris Hazell. The programme is suitably varied. The title track, "Lucus Iste" ("This Place"), by Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) was composed in the same year that the new chapel was completed in 1869. We have another look back with an anthem by one of Nethsingha's predecessors, Christopher Robinson (born 1936) with a premiere recording of "Jesu, Grant Me This, I Pray". There are two other world premiere recordings included: a new setting of the ancient "Adam Lay Ibounden" by Giles Swayne (born 1946), first performed by the choir in their 2009 Advent service (Advent being to St John's what Christmas Eve is to King's College). The work features a solo cello, here played by Laura Van Der Heijden, the 2012 BBC Young Musician Of The Year who is now studying Music at St John's. The other debut is by another BBS prize winner, Alex Woolf (born 1995) who won the Composer Of The Year title in 2012 and here gives us "O Vox Omnes", a setting of texts from the Biblical Book of Lamentations. If these unfamiliar works sound daunting listeners can be assured that there is also a good selection of better known ones, including Gerald Finzi's "God Is Gone Up", John Tavener's "The Lamb" and two from Benjamin Britten with his "Hymn To The Virgin" and "Jubilate In C". While collectors of choral music probably have these already the performances here are good enough for us to be happy to recommend them regardless. The concluding "Blest Pair Of Sirens" by Hubert Parry (1848-1918) is another highlight and, as per the old adage, leaves us wanting more, a suitable ending to a celebratory collection.
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