George Herbert: Hymns New and Old
performed by Sarum Voices
VIF Records, 2012
Going beyond the familiar poems and old settings
A handful of poems by the 17th century English poet George Herbert have long found a secure place in the Methodist singing tradition. Singing the Faith features three of the most familiar: King of Glory, King of Peace (StF 56); Let all the world in every corner sing (StF 57); and Teach me, my God and King (StF 668). (Follow the StF links for more information about these texts.)
Thanks to an enterprising group in George Herbert’s one-time parish of Bemerton, on the outskirts of Salisbury, we now have a chance to explore these and other of Herbert’s poems in a mixture of old and new musical settings.
In 2007, Summer Events with George Herbert, based in Bemerton, invited a number of contemporary composers to write hymn tunes for other poems from the collection that Herbert titled “The Temple”. Alongside the hymns included in Singing the Faith, these new settings are included on a CD, “George Herbert: Hymns New and Old”, sung by the Salisbury-based choir Sarum Voices under their director Ben Lamb.
The collection of 18 hymn-poems (already published in print form as “Another Music: Through the year with George Herbert”) varies in style, ranging from Howard Moody’s “A true hymn” (with more than a hint of John Rutter within its syncopated rhythms) to Alec Roth’s spare and delicate setting of “The Flower”. Some settings will be more suited to use by choirs as anthems; others – such as Edmund Hampton’s “Gratefulness” – offer attractive additions to congregational song.
Also included in the collection are a couple of hymns that didn’t make the transition from Hymns & Psalms to Singing the Faith (“The God of Love my shepherd is” and “Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life”), both sung to the tunes with which British Methodists will be familiar.
Throughout the CD (and published collection), the hymns are referred to by their original titles, such as “The Elixir” (“Teach me, my God and King”), reinforcing their origins within a collection of poetry. For this listener, the generally smooth and flowing style of the singing, combined with a fairly spacious acoustic, doesn’t always allow the meaning of the words to come through as clearly they might. Nevertheless, this is an attractive recording, easy on the ear and a stimulating reminder of the range of Herbert’s sacred reflections.