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Charles Villiers Stanford: Choral Music

Charles Villiers Stanford: Choral Music


For lo, I raise up, Op. 145

Te Deum (from Service in C major, Op 115)

Lighten our darkness

Benedictus (from Service in C major, Op 115)

O for a closer walk with God, Op. 113 No. 6

Jubilate (from Service in C major, Op 115)

Magnificat in B flat for double choir, Op. 164

Fantasia and Toccata in D minor, Op. 57

Eternal Father, Op. 135 No. 2

St Patrick's Breastplate

Three Latin Motets, Op. 38

A programme spanning the variety and sheer emotional range of Stanford’s Anglican choral music (with a notable contribution from Owain Park in the Fantasia and Toccata for organ). You are unlikely to hear quite so stirring a rendition of ‘St Patrick’s Breastplate’ for some time to come…

“If a disc of sacred Victoriana conjures images of kid gloves and more-tea-vicar, then this is the recording to banish them once and for all. Tea cups are shattered along with prim liturgical proprieties in a recording that reclaims this repertoire as the full-blooded Christian battle cry that it is.” Gramophone Magazine, July 2017

“the Choir of Trinity College under its director Stephen Layton gives a remarkable performance” Choir & Organ, July 2017 ****

“Stocked with female voices rather than boy trebles, the Trinity choir attack this repertoire with a brisk attack and mature aplomb under Stephen Layton’s sensitive direction. There is so much to cherish here, whether Stanford is punching the air or praying in quiet wonderment” BBC Music Magazine, September 2017 ****

“This is an extremely fine disc. The Trinity College choir has a well-deserved reputation as a top-rank ensemble and this new addition to their discography is absolutely up to the standards we have come to expect. These are performances which show why Stanford’s reputation as a composer of excellent liturgical music is so deservedly secure.” MusicWeb International, August 2017

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - July 2017

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Howells: Collegium Regale 'King's College Cambridge Service'

Howells: Collegium Regale 'King's College Cambridge Service'

& other choral works


Collegium Regale 'King's College Cambridge Service'

Psalm 122

Psalm 121

Behold, O God our defender

Rhapsody for Organ No. 1 in D flat major, Op. 17 No. 1

Owain Park (organ)

I love all beauteous things

Howells’ ‘Coll Reg’ is one of the glories of the Anglican repertoire—a relative outsider to the church providing one of its greatest adornments of the twentieth century. Stephen Layton and his award-winning choir took the trip to Coventry Cathedral for this very special recording.

“This is a stunning recording in so many respects. Attention to dynamic detail, especially the hushed quality of the Magnificat, brings out the ethereal, not to say numinous character of this highly original miniature…the darker, modal hues of the Te Deum and Jubilate benefit from the lavish role of the Coventry Cathedral organ…while moments of more characteristic Anglican prayerfulness are shaped by Layton and the Trinity choir with true, intimate poetry” Gramophone Magazine, April 2016

“The excellent singing is full-bodied and lustrous throughout, with just the right sense of momentum. Particular mention for tenor Jamie Roberts for his plangent Nunc dimittis.” The Guardian, 3rd April 2016 ****

“The Evening Service boasts some beautifully controlled singing from the sopranos in particular, their deft tapering of quiet dynamics in the Magnificat heightening the introspective quality of Howells's setting…you could take dictation from the two Psalm settings, so clean is the diction, so revealing Layton's phrasing and punctuation…you'll go a long way to find performances that understand [this] music better, or wear their sensitivity so lightly” BBC Music Magazine, May 2016 *****

GGramophone Awards 2016

Finalist - Choral

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - April 2016

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Christmas music from Trinity College Cambridge

Anderson, Leroy:

Sleigh Ride

arr. Robert Rice


The Virgin and the Child

arr. Gunnar Eriksson

Away in a Manger

arr. Reginald Jacques

How far is it to Bethlehem?

arr. Robert Rice

Bassi, J:

Quem pastores laudavere

Berlin, I:

White Christmas

arr. Jeremy Davies

Gruber, F:

Stille Nacht

arr. Jonathan Rathbone


In the Bleak Mid-winter (Cranham)

arr. Ola Gjeilo


E'en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come

Martin, Hugh:

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

arr. Owain Park


Peace, peace


Cradle Lullaby

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day


Jingle Bells

arr. Ben Parry

Praetorius, M:

Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen

arr. Erling Pedersen


The very best time of year

arr. Owain Park


The star - Shine forth, O star of Jacob

arr. Hans-Ola Ericsson


Chestnuts roasting on an open fire

arr. Peter Gritton

Read Presto's complete review of this disc here.

There are few choirs around today who can match the unbridled excellence of Trinity Cambridge. On this new album we find great carols both old and new. Add in some astonishing fresh arrangements and we have twenty-one tracks of pure festive indulgence—Yule love it!

“All the popular selections…sound notably relaxed and idiomatic, the choir's stylistic versatility confidently demonstrated.” BBC Music Magazine, December 2015 *****

“Highlights for me are two new works by the young Trinity alumnus Owain Park (b.1993): an easy-on-the-ear ‘Cradle Song’ which put me a little in mind of Bob Chilcott, and a dazzling setting of ‘Tomorrow shall be my dancing day’, full of fiendishly intricate part-writing which the fresh-voiced, well-schooled Trinity singers despatch with total aplomb.” Katherine Cooper, Presto Classical, 4th December 2015

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American Polyphony

American Polyphony


Agnus Dei

Reincarnations, Op. 16

Twelfth Night

To Be Sung on the Water, Op. 42

Heaven-Haven: A Nun Takes the Veil Op. 13, No. 1

The Virgin Martyrs Op. 8 No. 1

Let Down the Bars, O Death Op. 8 No. 2


Missa Brevis

David Allsopp (countertenor), Christopher Lowrey (countertenor) & Robert Millett (percussion)


Four Motets

Thompson, R:


Fare Well 'When I lie where shades of darkness'

Read Presto's complete review of this disc here.

An all-too-rare new recording from Polyphony and Stephen Layton presents highlights from the choral repertoire by four twentieth-century American giants: Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland and Randall Thompson. Framed by Thompson’s understated favourites Alleluia and Fare Well, the programme includes Bernstein’s Missa brevis, Copland’s early set of four motets, and—of course—Barber’s inimitable Agnus Dei.

Stephen Layton talks to Presto's David Smith about American Polyphony here.

“Stephen Layton’s Polyphony are an always impressive choir of startling purity and clarity.” The Observer, 21st June 2015 ****

“The peerless choir offer meticulously blended and shaped performances of 20th-century a cappella American choral works.” Sunday Times, 28th June 2015

“This is the finest performance of Barber's Agnus Dei I've heard by any choir, live or on record…a wonderful recital, not to be missed.” BBC Music Magazine, August 2015

“If ever anyone was under the misapprehension that American choral music begins and ends with the Agnus Dei, this disc is the perfect riposte. A delightful selection, beautifully performed.” David Smith, Presto Classical, 6th July 2015

“This is an atmospheric anthology, fastidiously chosen and delivered by this fine choir.” Gramophone Magazine, August 2015

Presto Disc of the Week

6th July 2015

Presto Discs of 2015


BBC Music Magazine

Disc of the month - August 2015

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Leighton: Crucifixus

Leighton: Crucifixus

& other choral works


Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis (Collegium Magdalenae Oxonienses)

God's Grandeur

Give me the wings of faith

Missa Brevis Op. 50

Missa de Gloria, Op. 82, ‘Dublin Festival Mass’: Ite, missa est

Jeremy Cole (organ)

What love is this of thine?

Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis (Second Service), Op. 62

Crucifixus pro nobis, Op. 38

Andrew Kennedy (tenor)

The choral music of Kenneth Leighton is beloved of cathedral and collegiate choirs across the land: immersion in the Anglican tradition dates back to the composer’s earliest years as a boy chorister and combines with a unique adult musical language to create a world at once radical and traditional. And who better to perform it than the musicians of the next generation—Trinity College Choir Cambridge under their director Stephen Layton.

“The writing [in Crucifixus] is at its finest when tenor Andrew Kennedy is singing: his contribution is altogether gripping, and unstintingly committed. There's wonderful quiet singing from the choir in the concluding 'Drop, drop slow tears'...The account of the Missa brevis is if anything even better...[Layton] elicits great subtleties of expression from his young singers.” BBC Music Magazine, Awards Issue 2015 *****

“The Trinity Choir responds to the music’s energetic, often muscly feel, and Stephen Layton’s direction declines to prettify.” Choir & Organ, May 2015 ****

“An excellent disc, one for all lovers of 20th century British music in general and choral music in particular.” MusicWeb International, April 2015

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Ēriks Ešenvalds: Northern Lights

Ēriks Ešenvalds: Northern Lights

& other choral works


O salutaris Hostia

with Rachel Ambrose Evans (soprano), Hannah Partridge (soprano)

The new moon

Psalm 67

with Michael Craddock (bass)

Trinity Te Deum

with Sally Pryce (harp)

Trinity Brass

Northern Lights

with Jamie Roberts (tenor)

The heavens' flock

The earthly rose

with Sally Pryce (harp)

Magnificat, Nunc dimittis (Merton College Service)

with Hannah King (soprano)

Rivers of light

with Hannah King (soprano), Jonathan Pacey (bass), Zane Šmite (jaw harp)

Ubi caritas

Amazing grace

with Anna Cavaliero (mezzo-soprano)

O Emmanuel

with Helen Charlston (mezzo-soprano)

Who can sail without the wind?

with Helen Charlston (mezzo-soprano), Hiroshi Amako (tenor), Sally Pryce (harp)


Only in sleep

with Rachel Ambrose Evans (soprano)

The intensely practical choral music of the young Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds is steadily gaining appreciation across the world. The works on this new album owe their genesis to commissions from the United States, England and northern Europe and encompass ethereal expressions of uniquely arctic phenomena (listen for wine glasses turned—and tuned—to wondrously simple but devastating effect within the choral texture), American ballads and several works in the ‘Anglican tradition’, the fruits of the composer’s recent residency at Trinity College Cambridge.

Trinity College Choir Cambridge here returns the compliment, as it were, with superlative performances of these varied and engaging works, all recorded under the watchful eye of the composer and conductor Stephen Layton.

“His rich, sonorous choral writing is in almost permanent ecstasy...that, when packed into one album of 16 varied items, is too ravishing to cope with. It’s all beautifully sung, but the sheer quantity of the material diminishes each work’s individual impact.” The Observer, 25th January 2015 ***

“Trinity College's choir sounds as though its members relish the experience of recording his music. The sonority is secure from top to bottom...I find Ešenvalds at his most convincing when dwelling on natural phenomena of his homeland...lovers of this corner of the choral repertoire will find here much to enjoy.” Gramophone Magazine, March 2015

“One of the chief pleasures of this CD is right at the beginning - the silvery duetting of Rachel Ambrose Evans and Hannah Partridge...Their fluid delivery of the little grace notes is delectable, and Stephen Layton secures a perfect balance with the choir in the background. Ešenvalds's music, is not quite easy listening, is certainly audience-friendly...what a force the Trinity choir has become.” BBC Music Magazine, April 2015 ****

“The disc is an excellent place to become familiar with Ešenvalds’s attractive output.” Choir & Organ *****

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Arvo Pärt: Choral Music

Arvo Pärt: Choral Music


Peace upon you

Morning Star

The Woman With The Alabaster Box

The Deer's Cry



Beter (2)

Rachel Ambrose Evans (soprano)

Tribute to Caesar

Richard Bannan (bass)



Alleluja Tropus for choir and string orchestra

Da pacem Domine

Stephen Layton and Polyphony have a long and fruitful relationship with the music of Arvo Pärt. Their recording of Triodion and other choral works (CDA67375) won a Gramophone Award and became a cult classic. The extraordinary purity of Polyphony’s singing is the perfect vehicle for music of such clean, elemental simplicity, such cathartic calm.

This third Pärt album from Stephen Layton and Polyphony reaches right back, intriguingly, to the composer’s youthful modernist phase and spans nearly five decades—from 1963 to 2012—in the process. As with the album Triodion, it reflects an increasingly broad spread of languages and sources in Pärt’s chosen texts. Latin, German and English are joined here by Church Slavonic and Spanish. A range of biblical texts are set alongside ancient prayers.

“this one is something special. In part this is because of the choice of repertoire, which mixes the familiar and the less-often heard, and includes two first recordings, and in part it is because of the exquisite sound produced by Polyphony...Highly recommended.” Gramophone Magazine, October 2014

“the choir fully conveys the extraordinary sense of atemporality that makes this piece so prescient of the later tintinnabuli style. The choir demonstrates crystal-clear articulation and remarkable dynamic control in Zwei Beter...while the slow-moving, syllabic declamation of Tribute to Caesar is movingly done.” International Record Review, December 2014

“Alleluia-Tropos (2008) originally included eight cellos (a favourite sonority for Pärt has always loved cello ensembles) but Polyphony's sound is, as always, so rich and beautiful that there is no sense of anything missing.” BBC Music Magazine, Janaury 2015 *****

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - October 2014

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Hyperion - CDA68056


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Handel: Chandos Anthems Nos 5a, 6a & 8

Handel: Chandos Anthems Nos 5a, 6a & 8


Chandos Anthem No. 8 'O come let us sing unto the Lord', HWV 253

Chandos Anthem No. 6 'As pants the hart of cooling streams', HWV 251b

Chandos Anthem No. 5 'I will magnify Thee', HWV 250a

Handel’s beautiful, intimate settings of liturgical texts written for the First Duke of Chandos are among his less well-known choral works—and are proved by this second volume from Trinity also to be among his loveliest. They are a perfect example of the composer’s English style heard in Acis & Galatea and oratorios such as Judas Maccabaeus.

The soloists on this recording include internationally acclaimed Handelians Susan Gritton and Iestyn Davies, and the young tenor Thomas Hobbs, whose warm, lyrical tone is perfect for this repertoire. Trinity College Choir Cambridge sing with their usual youthful exuberance tempered with elegance, style and precision, under the expert guidance of Stephen Layton.

Read Presto's complete review of this disc here.

“Layton directs his young singers with such a perfect control of texture and rhythm that there's no hint of stodginess” Gramophone Magazine, July 2013

“Layton has drilled his singers to perfection in this trio of Handel's Chandos Anthems, making every word distinct and every crisp consonant a taut springboard on which to propel Handel's irresistible rhythm...Thomas Hobbs is the stand-out soloist” The Observer, 8th July 2013

“It says much for Layton's skill that he has managed to retain their companionable intimacy despite super-sizing his own resources to a choir of more than 30 singers with orchestra to match...Layton is a peerless Handelian, master of the architecture, yet constantly alert to enlivening nuances that only seem obvious with hindsight.” BBC Music Magazine, October 2013 ****

Presto Disc of the Week

8th July 2013

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Bach, J S: St John Passion, BWV245

Bach, J S: St John Passion, BWV245

‘Layton has directed this annual St John Passion for several seasons now. His readings, which are becoming ever more dramatic and daring, have a raw intensity. It was easy to see why these concerts have become one of the highlights in London’s musical calendar’ (The Guardian)

Polyphony and Stephen Layton present their celebrated performance of Bach’s most dramatic masterpiece. Accompanied by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and a starry team of soloists, Layton directs a vivid account, the excitement of the narrative drama contrasting with heartbreaking moments of reflection.

In Ian Bostridge, we have the most iconic Evangelist of the last twenty years; an artist who is an incomparable communicator, a singer of technical brilliance, and an impassioned, experienced interpreter of Bach’s music.

Read Presto's complete review of this disc here.

“[Bostridge is] a magnificent Evangelist though one aspect of his approach may not be to all tastes. He is highly expressive at all times and there are several occasions where some may feel he overdoes the expressiveness..Polyphony show vividly just what can be achieved in Bach singing by a fairly small professional choir, especially in terms of such things as flexibility, attack and agility...This desirable new recording deserves a place in the front rank.” MusicWeb International, February 2013

“Layton has honed his preferred version, but only aficionados will notice or mind. Concentrate instead on the purity of sound, the emotionally expressive yet restrained performance by all and the impeccable attention to text of the soloists. Ian Bostridge (Evangelist) lives every word of the narration but never over dramatises. Countertenor Iestyn Davies's almost disembodied account of Es ist vollbracht! (It is finished!) is unforgettable.” The Observer, 3rd March 2013

“the choral singing is wonderfully pure, buoyant and transparent...Ian Bostridge’s Evangelist, mannered and occasionally stretched but full of “narrative” character, dominates Layton’s performance” Financial Times, 9th March 2013 ***

“when Bach’s goal is mellifluous comfort, as in the final chorus, Ruht wohl, Polyphony wins hands down.” The Times, 15th March 2013 ****

“this new recording's credentials border on the unassailable...Layton's pacing is compelling - there's no mistaking the gambling fever as the soldiers cast lots for Christ's garment...[Neal Davies] reserves a melting tenderness for the utterances from the cross. It's crowned by Iestyn Davies's sublime account of 'Es ist vollbracht'...Both Carolyn Sampson's arias are priceless.” BBC Music Magazine, April 2013 ****

“this St John Passion brings to the fore the traits of style and taste that are distinguished hallmarks of Layton and the forces he gathers around him...Bostridge is the tenor Evangelist, eloquent, pure of tone, fluent and strong in communicating the import of the German narrative...The choir sings with a well-rounded sound, firm accents and with diction that brings the text crisply to life” The Telegraph, 22nd March 2013 *****

“about as state-of-the-art a Bach Passion recording as you'll hear...Take as read the urgency, clarity, balance and delamatory unanimity of the chorus...Layton's reality is about cultivating the focus of each sentiment with supreme corporate executancy...Bostridge is the master story-teller who surveys all about him.” Gramophone Magazine, May 2013

“it’s remarkable simply because it’s practically perfect in every way...though [Bostridge has] been singing the Passions for over a decade he still sounds as if he’s telling this familiar story for the first time...The soloists, too, are all perfectly cast...But it’s Iestyn Davies who really takes the laurels.” Katherine Cooper, Presto Classical, 18th February 2013

“Stephen Layton directs this intense, dramatic reading with intelligence and integrity, ably assisted by an excellent team of soloists...Layton’s small choir, Polyphony, responds alertly to the changing dramatic demands...The OAE plays with style and authority, and Hyperion’s recording is spacious, full, clear and detailed.” Early Music Today

Presto Disc of the Week

18th February 2013

Presto Favourites

Recommended Recording

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - May 2013

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Britten: A Ceremony of Carols & St Nicolas

Britten: A Ceremony of Carols & St Nicolas


A Ceremony of Carols, Op. 28

Sally Pryce (harp), Katherine Watson (soprano) & Zoë Brown (soprano)

St Nicolas, Op. 42

Allan Clayton (tenor)

City of London Sinfonia, Holst Singers & Temple Church Choristers

2013 sees the centenary of Benjamin Britten’s birth and Hyperion starts celebrating early with this disc of two of the composer’s most popular choral works, both with a Christmas relevance.

The cantata Saint Nicolas tells the story of the original ‘Santa Claus’, a fourth-century saint whose acts—revitalizing three boys who had been pickled by an unscrupulous landlord being among the more dramatic—led to his canonization as patron saint of children and sailors. Britten’s lively setting is distinctly operatic, full of incident and colour—with the story brought ‘home’ through the use of congregational hymns. The part of Nicolas (here sung magnificently by Allan Clayton, already acclaimed as the heir to Peter Pears and Anthony Rolfe Johnson) is one of Britten’s great heroic tenor roles.

A Ceremony of Carols is a setting for treble voices and harp of some of the medieval texts which Britten loved so much, and is heard every Christmas in cathedrals, churches and concert halls throughout the land. This fresh, sparkling performance completes a thoroughly festive release.

“Layton’s soprano and mezzos affect a purity that sounds “boyish”...Clayton’s Nicolas is more youthful-sounding than his predecessors (Pears, Tear, Langridge), but Layton captures the mystery-play-like drama of the saint’s life story.” Sunday Times, 30th September 2012

“A Christmas disc to savour.” Financial Times, 10th November 2012

“Layton’s singers do project beautifully, and their sheer security makes this Ceremony a gorgeous, invigorating experience...The moment when the adult Nicolas (beautifully sung by tenor Allan Clayton) suddenly reveals himself in The Birth of Nicolas will induce goose pimples of delight in sceptical listeners.” The Arts Desk, 17th November 2012

“The young ladies of Trinity College Cambridge Choir here are pleasantly smooth without becoming unctuously so. Yet neither do they lack ruggedness...Clayton is magnificent” MusicWeb International, November 2012

“Layton's flowing speeds underline the dramatic sequence of the carols...All the solo performances are impeccably shaped and harpist Sally Pryce makes light work of the fiendish accompaniments...Clayton makes the role of Nicolas entirely his own. What a glorious voice!...This is a beautiful and deeply affecting recording.” Gramophone Magazine, December 2012

“The clear-toned adult voices of the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, highlight qualities in the work often missed when performed by the more usual boys' choir...Perhaps Trinity sound too well-behaved to match the boisterous enthusiasm boys typically bring...[though] the gains in terms of technical assurance and expression make this a welcome recording of a well-loved work.” BBC Music Magazine, January 2013 ****

“The ladies of the choir give a polished and fresh performance with a good amount of purity of sound, while Stephen Layton keeps the tempos moving convincingly. Women rather than boys may not be to everyone’s taste but it is mightily impressive nonetheless. Meanwhile Allan Clayton makes a thoroughly excellent St Nicolas.” Chris O'Reilly, Presto Classical, 3rd December 2012

Presto Disc of the Week

3rd December 2012

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - December 2012

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