Great British Anthems – Muso Magazine
Under the leadership of renowned conductor Jeremy Backhouse, the Vasari Singers have thrived for more than 30 years as one of the most celebrated and versatile chamber choirs in the UK. Since forming in 1981, the singers have concocted an extensive discography including their highly acclaimed 2007 release of Francis Pott’s major work, The Could of Unknowing.
Great British Anthems features some of the – yes – greatest works for chamber choir by 19th- and 20th- century composers, including Parry, Holst and Walton, as well as texts from (the Italian priest and theologist) St Thomas Acquinas, John Milton, WH Auden and the Bible. These ‘British’ anthems were created during the genre’s golden era; that is, when ceremonial music instilled with pomp and jubilance was the foundation of the choral empire.
The almost elitist weight that choral music carried allowed composers to indulge, and that bombast is certainly evident here. We begin in the 19th century with Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens, a work that established him as the leading choral composer of his day. The Vasaris are perfect for such luxurious music – the glorious textural colours combined with the traditional church location make for a heavenly blend, and Stanford’s unaccompanied Magnificat for Double Choir exemplifies their talent perfectly. Walton’s masterpiece The Twelve is the youngest of the 20th-century choral works. Almost avant-garde in style in comparison to the elder pieces here, its virtuosic organ part boasts the superb talent of Jeremy Filsell.