Regent Records is a label so easy to recommend, and applaud, in every way possible. Its achievements and its catalogue are as gratifying and enriching as they are deeply impressive.
They keep popping discs through my letterbox, so it's pleasing to be able at last to repay a bit.
One of Regent's latest wonders has been its recording devoted completely to the Tudor composer Thomas Weelkes. We hear of Byrd - the quatercentenary of his death is this year - and Tallis; maybe Gibbons; possibly Taverner; but Weelkes - although his four hundredth anniversary is in the same year as Byrd's - is far less well known.
REGCD 571 is all the more welcome, since the choir is that of Chichester Cathedral - which is where Weelkes (1576-1623, having served briefly, from roughly age twenty-two, at Winchester) was a somewhat drunken organist, with intermissions, for over two decades.
Chichester's choir has improved wondrously of late, firstly under Sarah Baldock, the second woman in England to be appointed a cathedral organist, but now most memorably under Charles Harrison. Weelkes' music is glorious, even if his 'Hosanna to the Son of David' takes a more subdued approach to Gibbons. Several pieces, sacred or secular, on 571, I have never even heard, or myself sung, or knew existed, which makes it an even more exciting find.
Chichester excels throughout this enticing disc. True, this isn't the only all-Weelkes collection on CD. What is so fascinating, apart from the distinctive quality of singing and musical direction, is that when one takes all these versions together, one finds Weelkes composed an astonishing number of anthems - not including his extensive madrigals.
A little history here. While all, including the legendary George Guest's landmark Argo LP in 1960 (shared with Tallis), tend to include the most famous - Chichester includes a sumptuous gathering of these - 'O Lord, grant the king a long life', 'When David heard', 'O how amiable' - each recording, including this glowing, ardent Regent CD, includes some that appear on none of the others. Chichester is doubly delightful by including the sombre 'O mortal man', 'What joy so true' and 'Rejoice in the Lord' - to be made famous by a stupendous Purcell verse anthem a century later - possibly from Chichester's own library.
Jeremy Summerly on Naxos added to our repertoire 'Death hath deprived me', a 'Lachrymae', and 'All laud and praise'. Ben Nicholas with Tewkesbury Schola Cantorum (ground already trodden by Paul Brough, both with splendid organist Carleton Etherington accompanying) unveiled a Te Deum & Jubilate, 'O vos omnes', and another aching anthem, 'Laboravi in gemitu meo'. Anthony Rooley, while not overlooking some of Weelkes' besotting secular pieces and madrigals - 'As Vesta was from Latmos hill descending', and possibly 'Two proud armies' - picks up the sacred 'Hark all ye Lovely Saints'.
But Winchester, Weelkes' previous cathedral, while under David Hill provides on CD (Hyperion's budget label, Helios) a repertoire largely different to this lovely Chichester disc: Weelkes' Evening Service for trebles; or the gloomy, then optimistic 'If King Manasses, sunk in depth of sin'. On a Nimbus all-Weelkes disc Stephen Darlington leads Christ Church, Oxford through a Weelkes five-part Service and his Ninth Service, while Chichester gives life to both his Sixth Service and morning Short Service. 'O mortal man, another of Chichester's many gems, was also put on disc by the choir of Sidney Sussex, Cambridge under David Skinner (on Obsidian).
On another front, a very special one, Regent has a really excellent - and original - series that has been building over several years. It's called 'A Year at ...', and it showcases the sacred music of each cathedral by stages through the Christian year.
The latest is from Llandaff, in South Wales, another choir which has made a miraculous improvement, even recovery, I suspect under Stephen Moore, who moved there from the famously splendid St Matthew's, Northampton. Llandaff sounds terrific at present, and their disc (REGCD 573), which features, for instance, contemporary works by the masterful Philip Wilby, Simon Lole, Will Todd, as well as Stainer's stupendous 'I saw the Lord', is to be highly recommended.
But then so does the whole of this outstanding ongoing series: York Minster (368: there are at least seven other recordings by York on Regent); Winchester (372, plus several other offerings), Tewkesbury (474, including two further discs); Lincoln (532), St Patrick's, Dublin (504, with a second disc from Dublin also directed by Stuart Nicholson). Look out, too, for Southwark (376), Bristol (514), or Exeter (524). All of these embrace a rich range of repertoire: something for Epiphany, Lent, Pentecost, All Souls' Day and so on.
Of special interest is Ely (REGCD 441), directed by Paul Trepte - Ben Parry, Francis Grier and Matthew Martin first recordings - with its girl choristers brought to real excellence by the inspirational choir trainer Sarah MacDonald, who also conducts the mixed choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, which shine under her leadership on several scintillating recordings, and who with Ely's Girls Choir reveals many glories of the Evening Canticles set for upper voices - Malcolm Archer, David Briggs, Simon Lole, the mighty Bernard Rose, and Sarah MacDonald herself (477).
Her link with Selwyn is underscored by a beautiful collection of anthems by Scottish composer Joanna Gill, who composed music for King Charles' enthronement at Holyrood: Love Illuminates includes new settings of some famous titles: 'If ye love me' (Tallis), 'A spotless rose' (Howells) 'Sir Christèmas' (William Mathias) and 'Drop down, ye heavens' (Richard Lloyd, Judith Weir). Regent has also issued a disc of Sir Philip Ledger conducting his own music with Selwyn: REGCD 305.
Truro Cathedral Choir is marvellous at every point. They have a flood of superb recordings on Regent. Their repertoire is inventive, their singing, as these splendidly mastered recordings prove, is right up there with the best. Truro never seems to flag, or falter: under David Briggs (before the organ claimed him), Andrew Nethsingha (now at Westminster), Robert Sharpe (who not surprisingly moved on to York Minster) and Christopher Gray, under whom the choir has not stood still but possibly become more polished than ever, and who has now succeeded Nethsingha at St John's College, Cambridge.
Truro's superlative tradition, as showcased by Regent, is now in the hands of twenty-five-year-old James Anderson-Besant, previously organ scholar of St John's, till this year Assistant Organist at Exeter Cathedral, and likely to uphold the unnervingly superb articulation and finesse of Cornwall's magnificent three-spire late Gothic Revival cathedral.
Regent have issued another most welcome disc by Truro - REGCD 263 - led by both those paramount choirmasters Robert Sharpe and Christopher Gray, of choral music by Louis Vierne, who is of course far better known for his organ output; hence this bold drawing together of his choral oeuvre is all the more exciting.
Vierne's Messe Solennelle already appears, with Langlais, thanks to Paul Hale and Southwell Minster (now Cathedral) choir (425). It's worth knowing his six Organ Symphonies have been issued on a glorious Signum triple disc played by Jeremy Filsell, his piano quintet and string quartet appear on various CDs, and his chamber and other works have been championed by a double disc on the Tympani label..
REGCD 557 features one of my very favourite - and treasured - choirs, 'La Maîtrise de Toulouse' (more officially La Maîtrise de la Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Toulouse), one of a handful of excellent boys' and girls' choirs devised in France along English Cathedral lines (Caen, Versailles, Notre-Dame, Radio France): some actually re-foundings of choirs that existed under Louis XIII-XVI but were abolished upon the Revolution, so now revived from nothing.
Toulouse is a fresh foundation created (in 2006) and conducted by the prodigiously talented Mark Opstad. It is hailed as 'the first choir school structure in South-West (or South-Central) France'. There are at least five recordings - a real coup for Regent Records - by this sensationally beautiful choir. On REGCD 557 there's the Duruflé Requiem. But Toulouse's other especially welcome item on 557 is the Double Mass - a masterpiece - by the Swiss composer Frank Martin (1890-1974).
Slava! (REGCD 513) is an intriguing collection of East European choral music: Russia, Poland and Hungary. 470 is an utterly exquisite collection from Toulouse of early French composers - Mouton, Bouzignac, Moulinié and Clérambault.
Not too familiar with these insanely ravishing historic composers? I promise you, they're absolutely knockout - especially here on Regent intoned by these refreshingly youthful, authentic French singers. The disc ends with a number of beauteous French carols, almost all arranged by Opstad himself. An equally appetising predecessor, by the Maîtrise de Toulouse, including the early Baroque masters André Campra (1660-1744), originally himself the Director of Music at Toulouse, and the sensitive, touching, little short of miraculous Belgian composer Daniel Danielis (1635-96), can be found on REGCD 420.
Happily some other children's choirs do exist in France, dubbed 'Les Petits Chanteurs '- at Lyons, for example, and at Neuilly-sur-Seine. One of the most celebrated, the boys' choir Les Petits Chanteurs à la Croix de Bois, drawing boys from all across France and performing in Paris and abroad, but with a headquarters in historic Autun, south-east of Paris, with its sensational Romanesque cathedral of Saint-Lazare (1120-32), rides supreme.
Another young choir is Les Petits Chanteurs de Saint-Louis de Paris; plus a third simply named after Paris itself, Les Petits Chanteurs 'de Paris'. Brussels also founded, postwar, its own Petits Chanteurs - Boys' - Choir.
Celebrating the thirtieth anniversary next year of an annual August festival linked to Northern Ireland-born composer Charles Wood, a bastion of the Royal College of Music in Kensington, Regent has issued a disc by the Charles Wood Singers - all young performers, under the expert direction of David Hill, conductor (since 1998) of London's famed Bach Choir. Stanford and Wood are, as so often, paired here (REGCD 567), but on this disc, entitled 'Canticle of the Sun', two things stand out: first, obviously, the renowned quality of Wood's major church anthems - 'Expectans expectavi', 'O Thou the Central Orb' and 'Oculi omnium'; but secondly, that Hill includes some forty-five minutes of choral music by the American composer Amy Beach - after whose work of that name the disc derives its title, and who is now at last regaining some of the fame she earned as America's first acknowledged major woman composer. A treat, not least as the half hour-long work of the title is a setting of words by St Francis of Assisi.
Alongside Thomas Trotter's beguiling organ recordings, one can add, for instance, on Regent Records, the adroit Alexander Mason, at Wales's glorious St David's Cathedral (REGCD 319) including twenty minutes of his own organ compositions; or the championing of the superb four-manual, mixture-rich Blackburn Cathedral organ - much used for recordings - by the cathedral's vastly experienced current Music Director, John Robinson. (Co-incidentally, two mid-nineteenth century organists of Blackburn, then a parish church, shared his name.) On this CD, Laus Deo (REGCD 561), the main work is the Sonata in C minor by Bournemouth-based Percy Whitlock (1903-46), once one of the secret heroes of the English organ tradition, but highly esteemed by organists today.
Like Trotter's organ transcriptions, one of the most intriguing CDs to emerge from Regent has been a disc called 'Wagner at the Organ' (REGCD 394). Featuring the accomplished Jonathan Vaughn on the much-admired organ of St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, it serves up an incredible parade of Wagner opera excerpts: Meistersinger, Tannhäuser, Tristan, Lohengrin, and of course the Ring. Seventy-four minutes of dazzle and originality. Truly remarkable!
But Vaughn more recently has furnished a just as fascinating, accomplished and rewarding disc of arrangements, on REGCD 494. 'Tchaikovsky at the Organ' includes two movements from the symphonies, some shorter pieces, and Vaughn's ingenious transposition of twelve of the highlights from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker suite. What cheek. What scintillating playing. Utterly delightful.
David Bednall is one of the outstanding modern-day church music composers featured quite regularly in Regent's lists, distinctly enhancing their catalogue: again exploring the organ of Blackburn Cathedral (on REGCD 498), plus Bednall's alluring and surely masterly Requiem (327), and more. The inspiring, excitingly productive Gabriel Jackson is performed - again by the terrific Truro Cathedral choir - on 479.
Add to all this Regent's other pioneering one-composer discs, exploring some of today's best, and uncovering riches galore: Mark Gorham (REGCD 485, 503), Paul Fisher (520), Iain Quinn (503), Paul Faviour (410), Ben Parry (542), Gary Davison (412), the marvellously inspiring Philip Stopford (twice: REGCD 400 and 517), Gary Higginson (from Ely, 381), Phillip Cooke (411, its poise owed to Sarah MacDonald once more), Russell Pascoe (549), Mark Gotham (495), John Hosking (438), Richard Peat (544) and Thomas Hewitt Jones (REGCD 429), grandson of the much-valued composer Tony Hewitt Jones ('At the round earth's imagin'd corners' - John Donne).
Also the increasingly well-known Bulgarian-born Dobrinka Tabakova (born 1980), who has carved out a significant name for herself in English music, further advanced by REGCD 530 (Truro again).
And so it goes on. There is much to reward every taste, to intrigue, salute, welcome and treasure on Regent Records. Not to be overlooked is organ music by Andrew Downes, a fine composer of an older generation who regrettably died only this year. Robin Walker, again at Ely Cathedral, on a disc entitled 'The Forest at Dawn', introduces two substantial works by Downes: Prelude, Fanfare and Postlude, and his Organ Sonata, plus other pieces. Downes was a composer of orchestral and choral music - also in the front rank. It's good that Regent has issued these organ masterpieces on REGCD 559. It's to be hoped the label will find further works by this fine musician to add to its burgeoning list.
With admirable initiative, Regent has recorded the complete, and virtually unknown, songs of one of the lights of the English Musical Renaissance: (Henry) Balfour Gardiner (REGCD 450). What a treat! 283 (The Choir of Christ's College, Cambridge) is devoted entirely to the Scarlattis, father and son - Alessandro and Domenico. Most of these are first recordings. From an earlier era, REGCD 491 consists of choral music by four supreme Spanish composers - not merely Victoria (died 1611), but Duarte Lobo (c1565-1546), Sebastián de Vivanco (c1551-1622), featuring his Magnificat in eight parts), and Francisco Guerrero (1528-99).
With such flair and imagination, can anyone doubt that Regent Records: glowing, glittering, glorious - and great - is a treasure trove, which any classical music enthusiast might feel encouraged to prise open and savour.
Thanks to the thoughtful leadership and bold pioneering of its founders, Gary and Pippa Cole, Regent has attained a unique place in the record-producing market. Not only do its technical mastery and exciting repertoire excel per se, but they furnish a mass of wonders for shrewd and discerning audiences and record collectors the world over.
Copyright © 29 October 2023