Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
To reach volume three suggests that volumes one and two were worth a follow up. In this collection we have reached the last Sunday in November in 2020, 2021 and 2022 which requires some explanation. Advent 2020 occurred during the second Covid lockdown with the choir spread out to observe social distancing and no congregation. The Advent 2021 was blighted with several choristers having to isolate and the Director, Andrew Nethsingha, being taken ill two days before the service leaving George Herbert, his Senior Organ Scholar, to conduct at very short notice with a storm blowing outside the chapel at the time of recording. By the time Advent 2022 came around, Andrew Nethsingha knew he was soon to move on to become Organist and Master of Choristers at Westminster Abbey and was able to welcome women choristers into St John's for the first time. With so much happening in the background it is good to report that none of this comes across in the quality of the recording, thanks to engineer Dave Rowell. As with the previous two albums, there is a good mix of anthems, hymns and organ music and, once more, some new commissions. We get 56 minutes of music in what is, in effect, a recital as none of the other elements of an Advent service - readings, prayers, congregational responses and so on - are featured, so we get our money's worth of music. Even though the focus is, of course, on the coming of the new king, there is a great deal of variety ranging from the new commission by Cheryl Frances-Hoad "Lo! The desert-depths are stirr'd" with its striking solo harp played by Oliver Wass through to some more familiar Bach organ pieces. We get two versions of "Adam lay ybounden": Peter Warlock's popular setting (now a century old) and a newer version by Philip Ledger. Also well known to singers of choral music are the two hymns "O come, O come, Emmanuel" and "Come, thou long-expected Jesus" both of which would have the congregation in full voice in a regular Advent service but here, with just the choir and organ, they still raise the roof. The singing is uniformly excellent and the range of material from the 15th century "Nowel, nowel. Owt of your slepe" to the contemporary setting of "O virgo virginum" by one of the choristers, Henry L'Estrange (born 2008 which makes your reviewer feel very old indeed), gives a pleasing mix without anything sounding jarringly out of place. As a swansong from departing Director Andrew Nethsingha this could not be bettered and his replacement, Christopher Gray, takes over the leadership of a choir at the peak of its powers.
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