I’m writing a brief series recommending different recordings of excellent sacred music in English. Last time I introduced several thoughts and recommended more than a dozen recordings of hymns and anthems. Today I want to recommend a handful of choral recordings of the Psalms in English. Again, my list will not be exhaustive, and I hope that the readers will contribute a few of their own preferred recordings (unlike last time).
One of the styles of psalm settings I have grown to love over the years is that of Anglican Psalm chant. You can see that my selections are heavily weighted toward this style of singing psalms. Anglican Psalm chant was developed during the English Reformation, and flows out of the Latin plainchant tradition. Each verse or so are sung to a harmonized melody of either 7, 14, 21, or 28 bars. The choir loosely sings several words on the 1st, 4th, 8th, and 11th notes of each melody line. The other words are distributed on the remaining notes. Every psalm ends with the Gloria Patri. This gives the church a way of singing the Psalm as written in any version of the English Bible (i.e., not in metered paraphrases, as it is other Reformation traditions). Of course, I am not implying that this is the only acceptable method of singing psalms, but this seems to me to be the one that has the most easily available recordings in English (given the Anglican tradition of excellent choirs, as well as their influence and resources, this makes sense).*
Recordings of the Psalms
1. Psalms of David. Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, David Willcocks and Phillip Ledger. (EMI, 2006.) This is a two-disc compilation of several earlier individual albums of the Psalms of David (vols. 1, 2, & 3). All the psalms are sung in the Anglican Psalm chant style.
2. The Psalms of David: The Complete St. Paul’s Cathedral Psalter. St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir and John Scott. (Hyperion, 2002.) The complete Psalms of David, sung again in Anglican Psalm chant style. At the time of posting, it looks like you can even pick this twelve disc set up for less than $70.
3. “Hear My Prayer, O Lord”: The Psalms of David, vol. 1. The Hereford Cathedral Choir and Roy Massey. (Priory, 1989.) Anglican psalm chant. Other volumes are available in this series.
4. Gloria Dei Cantores and Elizabeth C. Patterson. Thou Art My Refuge: Psalms of Salvation and Mercy. (Paraclete Press, 2005.) He Has Heard My Voice: Psalms of Faithfulness and Hope. (Paraclete Press, 2007.) His Love Endures Forever: Psalms of Thankfulness and Praise. (Paraclete Press, 2010.) Three different recordings of different Psalms by Gloria Dei Cantores, this time grouped by kinds of psalms. Anglican psalm chant.
5. Psalms from the Psalter. The Choir of Westminster Abbey. (Virgin Classics, 2005.) More Anglican Psalm chant. Two disc set.
6. Psalms for the Soul. Elora St. John’s Choir, Noel Edison, and Michael Bloss. (Naxos, 2000.) This album has some Anglican Psalm chant, but some other stylings as well. I really enjoy the Elora St. John’s Choir, and this album does not disappoint.
*Unfortunately, at this state, the best recordings of psalms in English come only from this “Anglican psalm chant” tradition. A few small Reformed outfits are putting together recordings in that tradition, but those are harder to get one’s hands on and I am not as familiar with those particular albums. Of course, if one expanded the scope of our selections outside of settings in English, there would be many more selections to recommend.