English Choral Music

Ah English choral music. So much of the Western choral tradition comes from the British Isles, so it's no surprise that today, the United Kingdom produces some of the most spectacular choral music on the planet. Whether it's classical, sacred or folk music, the English choirs do it like no one else, and if you have ever sung in a choir, it's a sure bet you've sung arrangements that began with their renowned directors. So why not hear the masters do it themselves?

Cambridge Singers

John Rutter was born in London in 1945 and received his first musical training as a chorister at Highgate School. He went on to study music at Clare College, Cambridge, where he wrote his first published compositions and conducted his first recording while still an undergraduate. His compositional career has embraced both large and small scale choral works, various orchestra and instrumental pieces, a piano concerto, two children's operas, music for television, and specialist writing for such groups as the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and the King's Singers. His most recent larger choral works, Requiem (1985) and Magnificat (1990), have been performed many times in Britain, the USA, and a growing number of other countries. From 1975 to 1979 he was Director of Music at Clare College, whose choir he directed in a number of broadcasts and recordings.

After giving up the Clare post to allow more time for composition, he formed the Cambridge Singers as a professional chamber choir primarily dedicated to recording, and he now divides his time between composition and conducting. He has guest-conducted or lectured at many concert halls, universities, churches, music festivals, and conferences in Europe, Scandinavia, and North America. In 1980 he was made an honorary Fellow of Westminster Choir College, Princeton, and in 1988 a Fellow of the Guild of Church Musicians. Recordings


Cantabile have long been acknowledged to be one of Britain's great vocal groups. Their reputation for originality and eclecticism is unsurpassed, and continues to spread ever wider. Having been focunded as a purely a cappella student group, Cantabile first came to prominence as the narrators of the Tim Rice musical Blondel , which re-opened the renovated Old Vic Theatre in London before transferring to the West End. Since then, Cantabile have retained their unique and unmistakable sound and inimitable sense of humour. In pursuing a policy of constant and dynamic renewal, Cantabile have won the Ensemble of the Year Award from the Wavendon Allmusic Foundation, for pushing back musical frontiers and exploring ever-new territories. Now a major international act, Cantabile have attracted a substantial following right across the musical spectrum, both in Europe and further afield, and are in high demand for their skills both as performers and as writers in the field of blue-chip corporate and private entertainment.

They have made well over 200 television appearances worldwide, embracing all five terrestrial TV channels in the UK, and in the space of one week alone sang on BBC Radios 2, 3, 4 and 5. They have had several radio series of their own, including a celebration of great American songwriters with the BBC Big Band. For Radio 1 they have written and performed jingles, and on television have provided the singing voices for Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones, and for the penguins in the highly successful John Smith's Bitter commercials with Jack Dee. Recordings

Choir of Clare College

Clare College, founded in 1326, is the second oldest of the colleges of Cambridge University. Situated on the banks of the River Cam in the heart of Cambridge with its main buildings dating from the seventeenth century, Clare is a flourishing community of some 75 fellows, 400 undergraduates, and 130 graduate students. Music plays an important role in the life of the college. In 1971, the hitherto all-male chapel choir was re-establised as a mixed-voice group of some 24 voices, since when it has gained an international reputation as one of the leading choral groups in Britain. The choir is conducted by the Director of Music, who is a Fellow of the college, assisted by two undergraduate organ scholars. It exists primarily to sing regular choral services in the college chapel, but in addition gives frequent concerts, both in Britain and abroad. Radio and television broadcasts and recordings form a regular part of the choir's increasingly busy schedule.

Timothy Brown, Director of Music at Clare College, Cambridge, succeeded John Rutter as director of Clare College Choir in 1979. With the choir he has made many recordings and broadcasts, and undertaken numerous overseas tours. He also directs Cambridge University Chamber Choir and the London-based professional chamber choir English Voices. Described recently in a leading newspaper as `one of Britain's most effective choir conductors and a prime custodian of the tradition that makes Oxbridge chapels famous from Seattle to St Petersburg,' he undertakes many freelance conducting engagements and is a popular tutor at international singing courses. He has edited a number of choral volumes for Faber Music and is a contributing editor to the complete edition of music by William Walton, published by Oxford University Press. Recordings

Choir Of King's College

Internationally recognized as the pre-eminent representative of the great British church music tradition, the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, owes its existence to King Henry VI who, in founding the College in 1441, envisaged the daily singing of services in his magnificent chapel, one of the jewels of Britain’s cultural and architectural heritage. This remains the choir’s raison d’être, and is an important part of the lives of its sixteen choristers, who are educated on generous scholarships at the College School, and the fourteen choral scholars and two organ scholars, who study a variety of subjects in the College itself.

Today’s Choir derives its worldwide fame and reputation from the annual broadcast of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, which is heard on radio by millions all over the world and which last year celebrated the 75th anniversary of its first broadcast, together with the now well-established television program, Carols from King’s. It is also famous for its many recordings for EMI and Decca and its international touring program. In recent seasons the Choir has travelled to the USA and Canada, South Africa, Australia and has also made a world tour including concerts in Hong Kong, Macau, Taipei, Tokyo and the USA. Concerts have also recently been given in Bach’s Church in Leipzig, Copenhagen’s European City of Culture celebrations, the Brussels Conservatoire, the Bruges Early Music Festival, Paris’s Musée d’Orsay, in Germany, Greece, and further afield in Barbados and Bermuda. They have just returned from a tour of the Far East and will travel to the US for a tour at the end of this year.

The Choir also performs in London, appearing regularly in all the major halls. Last season they performed the St. Matthew Passion with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Kurt Masur at the Royal Festival Hall. They also appeared at the Spitalfields Festival and performed their regular Christmas program at The Royal Albert Hall with the Philharmonia. They continued their own series of concerts at St. John’s, Smith Square and performances outside London included concerts at the Brighton Dome, Birmingham Symphony Hall, and a return to the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, following their previous success there with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. Recordings


Cantamus, a choir consisting of 43 girls aged between 13 and 19 and based in Nottinghamshire, has achieved unprecedented acclaim from critics and adjudicators throughout its career. Formed in 1968 by Pamela Cook, who is still its director, Cantamus has been praised consistently for its amazingly mature style, impeccable technique and unfailing ability to captivate its audiences. The choir has won 16 first prizes in international choral competitions, including the Grand Prix award at the Riva del Garda Festival, Sainsbury's Choir of the Year (twice), Choir of the World at the Llangollen Eisteddfod and Olympic Champions at the World Choir Olympics. It has represented Great Britain in several overseas choral festivals and at the World Symposium in Choral Music. Overseas tours have included Japan, Israel, the USA and Canada, and most countries in Eastern and Western Europe.

Cantamus is considered by many leading musicians to exemplify all that good choral singing should be; its private recordings have been studied at the Sofia and Warsaw Conservatoires and at choral courses held throughout Great Britain. Composer Howard Goodall stated: "Only very few musicians and performers at any given time manage to combine absolute world-class excellence of technique and style with the ability to express themselves from the bottom of their hearts. Cantamus, miraculously, are amongst this select few." Ventures into jazz, ethnic music and opera have also been widely acclaimed and the Performing Rights Society has awarded the choir prizes on four separate occasions for its enterprising programmes. Recordings

Corydon Singers

Founded by Matthew Best in 1973, Corydon Singers are now widely recognised as one of the foremost choirs in Britain. Their first recording, of Bruckner motets, was issued in 1983 and established them on the road to distinction. Their subsequent and numerous recordings, all for Hyperion, have consistently earned the approval of the press in Britain, Europe, the United States, Japan and elsewhere. Their 1990 recording of Vaughan William' s Serenade to Music and other works was selected as Record of the Year by both The Guardian and The Sunday Times, and was nominated for a Brit Award. Their recording of Rachmaninov's Vespers was chosen as the preferred version in BBC Radio 3's 'Building a Library' and their recording of Bruckner's Te Deum and Mass in D minor was selected as one of the top releases of 1993 by the BBC's Record Review. A great many of Corydon's recordings have reached the Gramophone Awards short list in the choral section and they have four times been runner-up: in 1984 with Howells's Requiem, 1990 with Vaughan Williams's Serenade, 1996 Berlioz's L'Enfance du Christ and in 1997 with Beethoven early cantatas.

Since leaving Cambridge where he was a Choral Scholar at King's College, Matthew Best has pursued a dual career as singer and conductor. He founded Corydon Singers when he was only sixteen and has been its Musical Director ever since. For the past ten years he has enjoyed a very fruitful association with Hyperion Records, resulting in many highly regarded recordings of 19th- and 20th-century music. These have included the Requiems of Fauré and Duruflé, the Rachmaninov Vespers and Liturgy of St John Crisostom, Britten's St Nicolas and several recordings of music by Bruckner and Vaughan Williams. His Bruckner series (which includes the three Masses, Psalms 112, 114 and 150, the Requiem, Motets and the Te Deum) was completed in 1993 in time for the 21st Anniversary season of Corydon Singers, and to celebrate their 21st birthday this year, Corydon Singers and Corydon Orchestra conducted by Matthew Best make their Proms debut. His recording of the Vaughan Williams Serenade to Music was voted 1990 Choral Record of the Year in both The Guardian and The Sunday Times, and several of his other recordings are now the established recommended versions. Recordings

Finzi Singers

The Finzi Singers were founded by Paul Spicer in 1987 for a Festival of the British Music given under the auspices of the Finzi Trust. They are now regarded as the major exponent of British twentieth-century choral music in which they specialize. The choir presents original and interesting programmes with a special emphasis on contemporary repertoire. Commissioned works and first performances include music by Michael Berkeley, Judith Bingham, John Joubert, David Matthews, Stephen Pratt, Jeremy Dale-Roberts, John Tavener and James Wishart. Concerts and recordings alike have met with considerable critical acclaim.

Paul Spicer began his musical training as a chorister at New College, Oxford. He studied with Herbert Howells and Richard Popplewell at the Royal College of Music in London, winning the Walford Davies Organ Prize in his final year (the top award). He taught music for ten years from 1974 at Uppingham School and Ellesmere College before becoming a Producer for BBC Radio 3 in 1984, and Senior Producer for the Midlands Region in 1986 based in Birmingham. In 1990 he became Artistic Director of the Lichfield International Arts Festival, and also Director of the Abbotsholme Arts Society, posts he relinquished in July 2001 in order to pursue a completely freelance musical career. Recordings

King's Singers

It isn't really a surprise that one of the world's most popular vocal groups comes from England, for that country has long had and unsurpassed tradition of vocal music with roots in both religious and secular singing. Tallis, Byrd, Gilbert, Sullivan, and even King Henry VIII leap to mind. It is said that in the barbershops of Shakespeare's time a lute or guitar was kept on hand for the patrons to while away the time with song. Glee Societies have had a long history in England. But the mainstay of English vocal tradition has resided in the church and the education of youthful choristers in the great cathedrals. Each year out of all England and its rich tradition there are just fourteen young men appointed choral scholars to King's College, Cambridge. As there are such a select few, a close bond is formed among these singers whose lives are immersed in the tradition of choral song, by daily choir practice and evensong, not to mention the individual effort to train and strengthen the voice. The closeness of the individuals is enhanced by such traditions as having their own table at Hall and the commitment shared to a particular musical style. Recordings


The distinctive sound of Libera has travelled the world in the last several years. The group's albums have topped both mainstream and classical charts in many countries, including the USA and the UK, where the recording spent several weeks in the top three alongside Bocelli and Pavarotti. The talented singers of Libera come from a variety of different schools and backgrounds and join together at a church in South London, where they rehearse and perform for many hours each week. The youngest is seven. The oldest members are fourteen, but many remain to sing with the lower voices of the group. Alongside their unique Libera music, the boy singers enjoy a wide repertoire from classical and cathedral pieces to works for pop and media productions. In recent years they have sung on films like 'Romeo & Juliet' and 'Hannibal' and with singers like Bjork, Elton John & Pavarotti. On TV and Radio they have appeared with Dame Edna, Cliff Richard and Russell Watson, and even recorded music for a forthcoming Playstation game. Recordings

Mediaeval Baebes

Guelph Youth Singers (GYS) has become a high profile representative of the City of Guelph in the field of choral music. Founded in 1991 as Guelph Children Singers, this organization was formed to provide children and youth with an opportunity to experience a professional level of musicianship. The four treble choirs in the organization are: Choir I, a training choir of children aged 6 and up; Choir II, a more advanced training choir of children and youth aged 9 and up; Choir III, a choir for singers who have superior singing and music reading skills, aged 11 and up; and Choir IV, an advanced ensemble for young women aged 16 and up. Weekly instruction includes vocal technique, theory and sight singing, and is augmented with workshops by guest clinicians in drama, movement and voice throughout the year. GYS performs up to five major concerts per season as well as workshop, festival, corporate, community and guest performances. Recordings

National Youth Choir of Great Britain

The National Youth Choir of Great Britain is widely regarded as one of the finest youth choirs in the world, as recent reviews testify. In fact there are now three choirs, the Senior Choir for young people aged from 16 to 22, the Training Choir for students of Secondary School age, and Laudibus, a chamber choir of professional standard. A British Youth Choir existed in the 1970s, directed by David Clover and administered from the city of Sheffield. In 1979 Carl Browning was appointed music adviser to Sheffield as David's successor and took over the British Youth Choir, asking Mike Brewer to be Musical Director. The first BYC course under new management was in 1981. The name was changed to National Youth Choir in '83 to bring the choir in line with our National Youth Orchestra and to change the choir's format to being a highly selected group, representative of all regions of Britain.

Michael Brewer was Director of Music Chetham's, Britains largest specialist music school, for 20 years. During that time he became firmly established as a leading figure in the choral music world. In January 1995 Michael took the decision to leave Chetham's to concentrate on his demanding schedule of choral activities in Britain and abroad. Michael came to choral prominence by winning the international radio competition Let the People's Sing twice, firstly with the Latymer Madrigal Group and then with Chetham's own Chamber Choir. Since then he has undertaken workshops and concerts throughout the world. A busy adjudicator, Michael also gives regular masterclasses for singers and teachers. He is Musical Director of the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, a board member of the British Federation of Young Choirs and the Association of British Choral Directors. Michael was awarded the OBE in the 1995 New Year Honours List. Recordings

Oxford New College Choir

New College Choir is an outstanding part of musical life in Britain. William of Wykeham - who also rebuilt Windsor Castle for Edward III and founded Winchester College - was responsible for its creation, College and Choir. He provided for sixteen choristers, and clerks. Their duty, to sing the daily office in his magnificent mediaeval chapel. This practice still continues within the context of today’s University life. Both the children and the young adults receive a musical training of the highest standard, in keeping with a world-class university.

The success of the Choir in recent times can be measured in 80 CD recordings, and a reputation extending across the world. The recordings encompass the classics of the English Cathedral repertoire with Taverner, Byrd and Tye at one end and Stanford and Howells at the other; masterpieces of the French renaissance by Du Caurroy and Lejeune; the baroque triumphs of Purcell, Mondonville and Handel. Latterly highly successful compilations such as ‘Agnus Dei’, ‘Early One Morning’ and ‘Bluebird’ have won over huge new audiences for its work. The Choir’s director, Edward Higginbottom, brings to the Choir’s interpretations not only his musicianship, but also his scholarly insights. His work at Oxford is divided between the Choir and Faculty of Music, spanning standing ovations at the Concertgebouw to teaching first-year. Recordings


Polyphony was formed by Stephen Layton in 1986 for a concert in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. After successive concerts there, consisting primarily of early music, the group moved its base to London, and has subsequently expanded its field of activities. For several years the choir provided the music for services in the fine Wren city church of St Stephen’s Walbrook. Polyphony has given concerts in France, Spain, Brazil, Denmark and at festivals all over the UK. They perform regularly in London at St John’s Smith Square. Their performances have received enthusiastic acclaim in the press: the St John Passion was hailed in The Times as a ‘Passion to remember’ and according to The Evening Standard Polyphony’s rendition of Messiah was a ‘vivid injection of the freshest air’.

Polyphony made a double BBC Proms debut in 1995 with performances of Arvo Pärt’s St John Passion with The Hilliard Ensemble, and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with Les Musiciens du Louvre. They performed the world premiere of Oceanos by James Dillon in 1996 and, in the same year, Schnittke’s Symphony No. 2 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall, and an EBU broadcast of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. For the last few Christmases Polyphony has performed a cappella concerts and had sell-out performances of Messiah at St. John’s, Smith Square. They continue to give regular radio broadcasts including two BBC lunchtime concerts in 1999, performing music by Poulenc, Rautavaara and Tormis, and a BBC Radio 3 recording of Bach’s St John Passion in London on Good Friday 2002. Recordings

The Sixteen

he Sixteen is one of the jewels in the musical crown of Britain. Internationally recognised as one of the finest choirs of our time, it is admired for performances combining clarity and precision with beauty and dramatic intensity. It concentrates on the heritage of early English polyphony, masterpieces of the Renaissance and Baroque, and a diversity of twentieth century choral work. The choir is complimented for larger scale works by its orchestra, The Symphony of harmony and Invention, and through it Harry Christophers brings fresh insights to the music of Purcell, Monteverdi, JS Bach and Handel. Many prize-winning recordings reflect the quality and inspiration of the group's work. Recent years have seen the group's debuts at the Vienna Musikverein, the Brisbane, Covent Garden, Halle, Istanbul and Lucerne festivals, and at the Lisbon Opera in a new production of Monmteverdi's "Il Ritorno d'Ulisse". In 2000 The Sixteen made a Choral Pilgrimage to the finest English cathedrals, returning pre-reformation music written for these buildings to its home. This met with a huge public response. In coming months the group makes major tours of Japan and the USA, returns to the Covent Garden Festival, New York's Lincoln Center, Manchester's Bridgewater Hall and London's Barbican Centre, and makes debuts at the Scarlatti Festival, Italy, Theatre des Champs-Elysees, Paris, and the Belfast, Brighton, Chicester, Norwich and Three Choirs festivals. Recordings

Tallis Scholars

The Tallis Scholars were founded in 1973 by their director, Peter Phillips. Through their recordings and concert performances, they have established themselves as leading exponents of Renaissance sacred music. Their exploration of the depth and variety of this repertoire has reached a world-wide audience. Peter Phillips has worked with the ensemble to create, through good tuning and blend, the purity and clarity of sound which he feels best serves the Renaissance repertoire, allowing every detail of the musical lines to be heard. It is the resulting beauty of sound for which the Tallis Scholars have become renowned.

The Tallis Scholars perform in both sacred and secular venues, giving around 80 concerts each year. They tour at least twice a year in the USA where they have been described as "a capella superstars", and give substantial tours in the Far East every eighteen months. In April 1994 The Tallis Scholars enjoyed the privilege of performing in the Sistine Chapel to mark the final stage of the complete restoration of the Michaelangelo frescoes. The group has given four major tours of Australia, singing in the Sydney Opera House and throughout the country. 1998 saw them in Italy (in Ferrara, at the invitation of Claudio Abbado) and in London for a unique 25th Anniversary concert in London's National Gallery premiering a John Tavener work written for the group and narrated by Sting. The guest speaker at this event was David Attenborough. In New York on 5th Dec 1998 the group gave their 1000th concert. 2000/2001 will see them perform in Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, France, Bermuda, USA, Australia, Singapore and China, as well as many major UK venues, including Symphony Hall, Bridgewater Hall, Wigmore Hall and London's South Bank Centre. Recordings

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