Stravinsky, Poulenc: Choral Works
Simon Preston
Catalogue No.

The Argo LP of the ‘Symphony of Psalms’ and ‘Canticum Sacrum’ caused a stir when it was first issued in 1975. All previous recordings had used female voices for the upper parts but Stravinsky specifically asks for children’s voices in the Symphony and his old-fashioned score markings in the ‘Canticum Sacrum’ suggest that he had the same, penetrating timbre in mind.

Separated by a quarter of a century, the works themselves could otherwise hardly sound more different from each other: the ‘Symphony’, a neoclassical piece scored for a relatively conventional orchestra (though deployed in often astonishingly unconventional, hieratic ways); ‘Canticum Sacrum’ written in Stravinsky’s personal adoption of twelve-tone technique for two soloists, a choir and a wind-heavy ensemble omitting violins and cellos but including an organ in tribute to the city of Venice and, more specifically, to the Basilica of San Marco.

This Christ Church recording of the ‘Mass’ had appeared less controversially in 1973 on another Argo LP, coupled with the four ‘Penitential Motets’ of Poulenc. Preston had become Organist and Choirmaster at Christ Church just three years earlier, at the remarkably young age of 32, yet the results already paid testament to his gifts as a choir trainer. The punchy attack of the trebles in the ‘Mass’ is quite alien to the English cathedral tradition to which the choir belonged but entirely appropriate for Stravinsky: there is a fierce and fearless intensity to their singing that carries over into the Poulenc motets. This particular coupling was first issued in 1991 but has long been unavailable.


Symphony of Psalms
Canticum sacrum   

Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford
Philip Jones Ensemble
Simon Preston


Nicholas Jones, treble
Andrew Giles, alto
Philip Cave, tenor
Arthur Lindley, tenor
Peter Herron, bass
Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford
London Sinfonietta
Simon Preston

Quatre Motets pour un temps de Pénitence          

Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford
Simon Preston

Recording information

Recording Producer: Michael Bremner
Balance Engineers: Stanley Goodall (Stravinsky: Mass; Poulenc); Stanley Goodall, Simon Eadon (Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms, Canticum sacrum)
Recording Locations: Merton College, Oxford, UK, 16–18 April 1973 (Stravinsky: Mass), 20–21 April 1973 (Poulenc); All Saints, Tooting, London, UK, 17–19 December 1974 (Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms, Canticum sacrum)
Original Argo LP Releases: ZRG 720 (Stravinsky: Mass; Poulenc); ZRG 799 (Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms, Canticum sacrum)


‘This record is quite an ear-opener … Lucky Christ Church to have a choir, and a choirmaster, like this.’ Gramophone, October 1975 (Symphony, Canticum sacrum)

‘The unearthly, white tone of the boys is entirely appropriate, the pacing vibrant [Symphony] … This performance [Canticum Sacrum] fully achieves its Byzantine combination of richness and austerity.’ Musical Times, August 1976