Note: The following review by Paul Hale appeared in the May 2001 issue of Organists' Review and was furnished by Stephen Beet.

Yet more boy choristers from a bygone age

The Better Land – Volume 3

Great Boy Sopranos recorded 1927-1969 [only one after 1950]

The voices of Derek Barsham, Michael Morely, Graham Payn, Donald Collup, Billy Neely, Robert Harris and Kenneth Purves

Twenty tracks, with various backing choirs, orchestras, pianists & organists, including the LSO, Gerald Moore & Phyllis Spurr (piano) and Fela Sowande (organ).

Recorded 1927, 1928, 1933, 1934, 1944, 1945, 1947, 1950, 1969 (Donald Collup).

Digitally remastered and restored using the Cedar process (mono) in 2000; TT 76’25" AMPHION PHI CD167

It is astonishing that volume three of this noteworthy series is with us already, such has been the popularity of volumes 1 & 2, that demand fully justifies this collection – and indeed more to come. For fuller reviews of the series please read Organists’ Review 2000/3 and 2000/4. What can I freshly comment here? Well, it is worthy of note that once again much of the CD is an enjoyable musical experience in itself – the fact the recordings are years old is largely irrelevant where the music-making is at its finest. Into this category come all the tracks from 1950 where Gerald Moore is the accompanist to the so-expressive Billy Neely; these include repertoire such as Christopher Robin is saying his prayers, The first Mercy (Warlock), Children’s Songs (Arensky), and The Coventry Carol. All were warmly reviewed in Gramophone fifty years ago, Billy Neely becoming something of a celebrity in his native Northern Ireland. Fela Wowande proves a sympathetic theatre organ accompanist to Derek Barsham in On wings of song (Mendelssohn) and The Holy City (Adams). Other tracks in this thoroughly varied (and very well re-processed) programme include Bless this House, Hear ye, Israel, Angels ever bright, Hark, hark, the lark, a rather disappointing performance of Hear my prayer (Derek Barsham struggles manfully against the flattening efforts of the High Wycombe Orpheus Male Voice Choir, 1945 vintage), The Lass with the delicate air, a deliciously kitsch Birdsong at Eventide and so on. The ‘late vintage’ is the 1969 track of Donald Collup (Texas Boys’ Choir) singing Exsultate jubilate (Mozart) with orchestra and organ. Though his tone is fruity and he is well-prepared, there is less subtle artistry here than in many of the other tracks (the constant ‘exsultaataye’ grates after a while). There is also a fine version of the Nursery Scene from Boris Gudounov (Mussorgsky) with Derek Barsham teamed up with the superb bass Norman Lumsden and the LSO, conducted by Stanford Robinson; every word is as clear as a bell, and the 1947 recording could have been made yesterday.

The back of the typically informative CD booklet sports a colour photograph taken on 7 April 2000 of Derek Barsham and Billy Neely, together with Denis Wright (a great supporter of the project, who appeared in volumes 1 & 2) and Stephen Beet, the mastermind and dogged researcher behind the series. Despite a few less than perfect performances and some rather grainy recordings, there is still much to treasure here; it is such a good thing that all these performances have been sonically ‘cleaned-up’ and made available once more.

Paul Hale
Organists’ Review - May 2001

Copyright © May 2001 Organists' Review
Used with permission of the author and editor of
Organists' Review.


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