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Across the centuries there has always been conflict and a terrible human price is paid. The creative artists of the world respond eloquently, and by words and music offer comfort and solace to those who are leftbehind to pick up the pieces. The catalyst for these CDs is the centenary year of the Armistice of 1918 but they are more than a centenary commemoration: they are a reminder and remembrance of every war, as indicated in the poignant title of the first CD, Lest We Forget. This well thought-out anthology from composers affected by the Great War includes works by Stanford, Bainton, Ireland, Howells, Parry, Holst and Elgar. Apart from Peter Aston, these composers had first-hand knowledge of the war itself, and the settings are moving, poignant and sometimes dramatic. Aston’s So they gave their bodies, with slight echoes of the Last Post, is a sympathetic addition. The talented Choir of Chichester Cathedral, with its confident and gifted young trebles, gives devout performances of the music, complemented by the sympathetic playing of organist Timothy Ravalde. Director and organist Charles Harrison performs with great flair Howells’s graphic Rhapsody no.3 in C sharp minor, op. 17, written during a Zeppelin raid on York, and Stanford’s ‘Verdun’, from Sonata no.2 ‘Eroica’.

It is good to see an appearance of Douglas Guest, whose finely For the Fallen is the opening track on a disc of composers including Charles Wood, Max Reger, Ravel, Rachmaninov and Mahler. Stationed at Verdun, Ravel wrote the music and text for Trois beaux oiseaux du Paradis reflecting on the contrasting realities of war. Two movements from Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil with excellent soloists show the Pegasus Choir at its most expressive, and they give an impassioned performance. Of the English contingent, both George Dyson and Ivor Gurney served in the Great War and suffered from shell-shock. Gurney’s fervent motet for double choir Since I Believe in God the Father Almighty expresses his feelings about the inhumanity of war. Walford Davies’s A Short Requiem, based on biblical texts, was written in memory of the fallen. The Pegasus Choir perform with great purity of tone which is often at the expense of the text, but the singers have a large expressive range which they use to great effect.

In Remembrance offers consolation to those who are left, and gives a timely reminder that the first world war’s dream was of a peaceful future. The text of Ireland’s moving Greater Love Hath No Man offered comfort to the bereaved, as did Elgar’s They are at rest. Holst’s Ode to Death, written in memory of his lost friends, is given a heartfelt performance by the Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, who sing with touching sincerity. They are joined by the Chelsea Pensioners’ Choir for rousing performances of Jerusalem and I vow to thee, my country. The only performance where the Chapel Choir is rather pedestrian is in Faure’s Requiem: this wonderfully ethereal work lost some of its magic by not flowing enough. Nevertheless, this is a lovely programme which gives one food for thought.

SHIRLEY RATCLIFFE Read the full review on Agora Classica


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