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David Kidman of fRoots

reviews Beneath Our Changing Sky by Test Valley Community Choirs

This enchanting new release from the Hampshire?based WildGoose label presents an anthology of songs from Hampshire sources, past and present, sung by community choirs from the Test Valley district (between Andover and Romsey)... who play such an important part in spreading such songs and keeping them alive. The choirs in question are the Andover Museum Loft Singers and Broughton Village Choir, both around 20 strong but each quite different in character. The recording was made in the Church of St. Mary the Less at Chilbolton, and has captured the vocal nuances and potentially awkward internal balance very well. Led by Traditional Arts Projects artistic director Roger Watson, these choirs have developed a style of  harmony which owes much to old traditions both secular and sacred.

Arrangements, either in three or four parts, echo the style of West Gallery church music, with its fugues, canons and responding phrases. Parts are not allocated to gender, but chosen by the singers for range, balance and preference. The track listing contains a number of items that are familiar to those frequenting singers clubs ? Fathom The Bowl, The Farmers Arms ?though the fulsome arrangements and distinctive stylings may not be to everyones taste. Particularly on first acquaintance, some (The Faithful Plough, Home Lads Home for instance), may seem just a little rarefied, deliberate or precious, having the effect of smoothing out the sentiment to an extent, while others may seem a little stiff or formal or self?consciously arty. Others (such as The Labouring Man and Barleycorn Carol) which have a more immediately accessible energetic quality, may thus more readily appeal. The title track, by the way, very affectingly sets a lyric created by Wherwell children to a traditional melody.

Certainly, the key to appreciating these vital performances is to listen with fresh ears and jettison preconceptions, so that you can greet old friends in new clothes as it were.