Carols from Chelsea (SOMM Recordings, 2016) - buy here
"Under the meticulous direction of William Vann, their reading of Howells’s A Spotless Rose is, well, spotless, while John Rutter’s Dormi, Jesu is saved from schmaltz and sung with the sweet, gentle grace it deserves." - The Guardian
This recording showcases some of the Choir’s most cherished carol repertoire, alongside solo organ music performed by the Royal Hospital’s Organ Scholar, James Orford, and a very special performance with Chelsea Pensioner George Hatton. George is known for his occasional singing in the Chelsea Pensioners’ Club in the evening, and during December he has been known to join forces with the choir for a song or two. It was one of those moments that gave them the idea to record something with him on this album and the last track, White Christmas, could hardly have ended the disc more joyously!
Many of the Royal Hospital’s carol services begin with Franz Gruber’s spine-tingling carol Stille Nacht, an especially moving carol to hear in the original German, given its celebrated performance in the trenches on Christmas Day, 1914. Once in Royal David’s City is the first of three carols that are usually sung with the full congregation, opening with the famous solo that captures the mood of Christmas like nothing else. In between that and Irving Berlin’s wonderfully un-wintry White Christmas, performed here in a new arrangement by Jim Clements, we hear mostly the work of English composers, from the Renaissance-era genius William Byrd to the contemporary composers Francis Pott and John Rutter. British organist Thomas Trotter’s arrangement of Leroy Anderson’s light-music classic Sleigh Ride leads us into John Gardner’s thrilling setting of the old text Tomorrow shall be my Dancing Day, the side drum part played on one of the Royal Hospital’s beautifully decorated instruments.
In Remembrance (SOMM Recordings, 2018) - buy here
"Directed by William Vann, the Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, with its clear, ringing tone, provides beautifully nuanced performances, especially of the a cappella items, Stanford’s numinous introit ‘Justorum animae’, Parry’s six-part ‘There is an old belief’, and Elgar’s elegiac ‘They are at rest’" - Gramophone
In the centenary anniversary year of the end of the First World War and on the eve of the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War, SOMM Recordings pays tribute to those who fought and fell in battle with In Remembrance. A moving compendium of music spanning 130 years, it features the Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, the Choir of Chelsea Pensioners, Staff and Volunteers, sopranos Katy Hill and Leah Jackson, baritone Gareth John and organists James Orford and Hugh Rowlands under the direction of William Vann.
Founded in 1682 by King Charles II, the Royal Hospital is home to the world-famous Chelsea Pensioners – retired veterans of the British army – whose contributions on three tracks adds its own special poignancy to In Remembrance. Moving choral works commemorating courage and offering comfort by Hubert Parry (his anthemic Jerusalem), Gustav Holst (the stirring I Vow to Thee, My Country) and Edward Elgar (his serene partsong They are at rest) are heard alongside equally affecting pieces by their contemporaries and successors, Charles Villiers Stanford, John Ireland, Douglas Guest and Charles Harris.
A Vaughan Williams Christmas (Albion Records, 2018) - buy here
"A dark-toned, introspective harmonisation of ‘Coventry Carol’ and a jaunty ‘I Saw Three Ships’ stand out particularly. Clear-toned, welcoming performances." - BBC Music Magazine, Christmas Issue 2018
Vaughan Williams was (with Cecil Sharp) one of the foremost collectors of folk songs from 1903, and collected many traditional carols as well. This collection is of carols as he arranged them, thus presenting his view of Christmas in the first half of the 20th century. He also wrote four completely new carols for the Oxford Book of Carols (tracks 12 to 15). The recording concludes with the first complete recording of Nine Carols for Male Voices, commissioned by the British Council in 1941 for performance by and for British troops serving in Iceland.
Nearly half of the recording is accounted for by world première recordings. The recording was made in February 2018 in St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead. William Vann directs the Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Hugh Rowlands accompanies 13 of the 24 tracks on the church's Willis organ.
Earth & Sky (Albion Records, 2018) - buy here
"A group of folk song arrangements elicits breezy, rhythmically engaging performances from the Royal Hospital singers…Vann’s conducting is both energising and unobtrusive, and the sound is pleasingly..." - BBC Music Magazine, November 2018
Albion Records is pleased to present fourteen choral works written by Ralph Vaughan Williams and a further eight arrangements made by him between 1896 and 1954 ? very nearly the length of his working career. 21 of the 22 tracks are world première recordings (we were pipped to 'O Praise the Lord of Heaven' by a June 2018 release!)
This varied collection includes salon music, folk song settings, hymns and anthems, patriotic songs and finally Gaelic songs in English translation. Vaughan Williams never repeated himself, and the variety on display here is quite astonishing.
The recording was made in February 2018 in St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead. William Vann directs the Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, and plays the piano for four tracks. Hugh Rowlands accompanies a further 9 tracks on the church's Willis organ.
An Oxford Christmas (Albion Records, 2021)
"An extra mince pie for the Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, whose An Oxford Christmas is a characteristically clear-headed salute to Percy Dearmer’s The Oxford Book of Carols via Vaughan Williams’s contributions to it." - Gramophone, December 2021
This recording focusses on arrangements made by Vaughan Williams for The Oxford Book of Carols (1928), coupled with two later carols published by Oxford University Press. Many of the tunes are far from well-known and deserve a new audience. We belive that 10 of the 22 tracks are first recordings, but reserve the right to have overlooked one or two amidst the vast but very mixed heritage of recorded carols.
The preface to The Oxford Book of Carols tells us that: ‘Variety in the method of singing is even more important than with hymns, and the verses should never be sung straight through all in the same way.’ In this spirit the choir’s director, William Vann, has prepared the carols for recording with a mixture of accompanied, unaccompanied and solo verses. Few of these carols are likely to have been undertaken by a congregation; this recording by a choir of distinguished professional singers presents the carols at their best, supported by the Henry Willis organ of St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead, in half of the carols.
As always, full texts are included, and detailed notes on the carols are preceded by an essay about The Oxford Book of Carols by Jeremy Summerly.
Earth's Wide Bounds (Albion Records, 2022)
This album is a choral compendium of works by Ralph Vaughan Williams comprising premiere recordings of both the Communion Service in G minor and the Nocturne: By the Bivouac's Fitful Flame, plus the Te Deum in G and hymns and anthems including Valiant for Truth.
The centrepiece here is the first complete recording of the Communion Service in G minor the 1923 English translation and revision of the Latin Mass in G minor which had been published just a year earlier. In keeping with the 1662 Anglican communion service then in use, the Gloria comes at the end; the service begins with sung responses to the ten commandments, read by Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury.
Five movements require a quartet as well as a double chorus. William Vann has confidence in every member of his Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, so each of those movements has a different quartet, thus giving individual voice to 20 of the choristers.
It is surprising that 'By the Bivouac's Fitful Flame', an early Walt Whitman setting, has lain neglected in manuscript for so long. This lovely setting for unaccompanied chorus started life as a Ballade for quintet in 1904 and was revised as a Nocturne, still for quintet, in 1906. The choral version must have come soon afterwards, thus representing the next stage in the experiment.
'Valiant-for-Truth' is a popular work, but few of the standard reference books on RVW have very much to say about it. Even Michael Kennedy does little more than tell us that it was written in November 1940. That date when the war news was bleak is the key to the selection of the text. It has nothing to do with the (then unfinished) opera 'Pilgrim's Progress' it's drawn from altogether the wrong part of the novel but Mr Valiant-for-Truth had fought three 'rogues', emerging scarred but victorious; he passed through the River to his reward, 'and the trumpets all sounded for him on the other side.'"
The Reeds by Severn Side (SOMM, 2022)
"All told, this is another feather in the cap for the increasingly impressive Vann-Royal Hospital Chelsea partnership." - BBC Music Magazine, July 2022
The Reeds by Severn Side is a ravishing collection of choral works by Edward Elgar, sung by the Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, led by director William Vann, accompanied by organist Joshua Ryan.
Of the 18 featured works, six are first recordings. They traverse Elgar’s remarkable ascension from lowly lawyer’s clerk to self-taught composer to Master of the King’s Musick. And chart the impeccable fusing of his Roman Catholic heritage with the Anglican church tradition to which he contributed several masterpieces. They also reveal what Vaughan Williams described as the 'mystery and [the] miracle' of Elgar’s flowering into the music laureate of Edwardian England, as Andrew Neill, former Chairman of the Elgar Society, observes in his authoritative booklet notes. Alongside juvenilia such as the 16-year-old Elgar’s Credo on Themes from Symphonies 5, 7 and 9 by Beethoven (in James Olsen’s completion) and Drake’s Broughton, to which the 73-year-old composer would return in his Nursery Suite, are diverse works that reveal growing confidence, including early settings of the Mass and first recordings (in English) of the Op.2 trilogy: Jesu, word of God Incarnate; Jesu, Lord of Life and Glory; Jesu, Meek and Lowly. The masterpiece bitonal setting of Tennyson, There is Sweet Music, one of Elgar’s self-described 'choral songs', is a highlight, alongside twin peaks of his anthem writing: O Hearken Thou (heard as the Latin motet, Intende voci orationis meae) and substantial Give Unto the Lord.
I Vow to Thee, My Country (SOMM, 2022)
"Vann’s talent for eliciting intelligent responses to text, and his use of dynamic nuances to clarify meaning, are splendidly evident in the Nunc Dimittis. The 20 singers of the Royal Hospital Chelsea choir give life to every line, moving from hushed beginnings to full-voiced elation with rare articulacy and confidence." - BBC Music Magazine, January 2023
I Vow to Thee, My Country, featuring the sacred choral music Gustav Holst, was released in 2022 by the Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea directed by William Vann, with organist Joshua Ryan and Richard Horne on tubular and bass bells.
A prolific composer best known for his orchestral spectacular The Planets, Holst was an expressive and sincere composer and arranger of religious music despite his professed agnosticism. Included are his only setting of the Anglican Service for Evening Prayer, Nunc dimittis, and his substantial Two Psalms and Four Festival Choruses, whose inspirations range from the Bible, Byzantine liturgy, 16th-century sources (not least Bach), and Welsh hymns. The 12 other featured songs see Holst setting an impressive array of centuries-spanning texts, and include the striking eight-part setting of Ave Maria for unaccompanied female voices, the ecstatic Not Unto Us, O Lord, premiered by the Royal Hospital Chelsea and William Vann in 2020, and the disc’s anthemic title song, its melody borrowed from The Planets’ ‘Jupiter’.
I Vow to Thee, My Country was sponsored by The Holst Society, who also commissioned four new arrangements making their debut on disc by Iain Farrington, and includes extensive, authoritative notes by Andrew Neill.