The isle is full of noises

A celebration of British choral music, by the Unicorn Singers, is available from choir members or via our contact page for £5.00.

Play List

  • All Creatures Now - by John Bennet (LIC)
  • Since First I saw Your Face - by Thomas Ford (LIC)
  • Joie et Clarté - by Olivier Messiaen (AD)
  • Ave Maria - by Josquin Desprez (AD)
  • The Lamb - by John Tavener (AD)
  • Benedicite - by Henry Purcell (AD)
  • Ave Verum Corpus - by William Byrd (LIC)
  • Fairest Isle - by Henry Purcell (LIC)
  • Singing Joyfully - by William Byrd (LL)
  • Thou Knowest, Lord - by Henry Purcell (LIC)
  • Salvator Mundi - by Thomas Tallis (LL)
  • O Magnum Mysterium - by Morten Lauridsen (AD)
  • O Sacrum Convivium - by Thomas Tallis (LL)
  • Rorate Coeli - by Giovanni da Palestrina (LL)
  • Litanies - by Jehan Alain (AD)
  • Sleep - by Eric Whitacre (AD)
  • If Ye Love Me - by Thomas Tallis (LIC)
The isle is full of noises

(LIC): Llanwenarth Citra
(AD): Abbey Dore
(LL): Llangattock

Track Samples

Salvator Mundi - by Thomas Tallis (LL)
Please click on play button to listen to this track

Fairest Isle - by Henry Purcell (LIC)
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  • Music Director - Stephen Marshall.
  • Organist - Meirion Wynn Jones.
  • Sopranos - Sheila Cotterill, Marina Edmunds, Sarah Harman, Pip Hassall, Angela Marshall, Jenny Marshall, Rachel Richards, Jill Rigby, Tina Rivers, Clare Shirtcliff, Ann Williams.
  • Altos - Clare Balfour, Sophie Furber, Jayne Greenwood, Tish Jack, Rosemary Jones, Christine Morgan, Madeleine Newcomb, Christine Porter, Katherine Saunders.
  • Tenors - Adrian Bates, John Coupland, John Filsell, Ian Heppenstall.
  • Basses - Alan Hall, James Joseph, David Morgan, Frank Williams, Gordon Wilson.


Shakepeare’s line in The Tempest, “the isle is full of noises”, might also serve as a fitting description of the enchanted sound-world of British choral music. With a rich tradition of cathedral choir schools and modern-day plethora of top-notch ensembles, the British have always revelled in vocal sonorities, so much so that one European visitor during the Renaissance could refer to our island as a nest of song birds. This CD programme presents a brief survey of the rich choral legacy of our enchanted isle, with pieces both old and new.

Since medieval times, British composers, often working in splendid isolation from their European counterparts, were free to develop a distinctive style that was to reach its zenith during the Elizabethan era with the music of Tallis and Byrd. This golden age of English music was to see a second flowering during the Restoration, in the music of Henry Purcell.

The characteristics of these composers’ decidedly English voice are a love or rich choral textures and spicy modal harmonies. Their works are also infused with a certain spiritual intensity that owes much to the religious turmoil of the period. In the light of persecution, works by Tallis and Byrd, who were both catholic sympathisers, take on a different hue, e.g. settings of penitential texts such as Salvator mundi and Ave verum corpus receive a very intense emotional response intended for recusant believers of the age, but still very noticeable for listeners today. This sense of yearning can also be felt in the works of Purcell (1660-1695), our greatest composer. The prayer, Thou knowest, Lord, comes from his profound set of funeral music written for Queen Mary in 1694, whereas Fairest Isle is taken from the masque ‘King Arthur’, a sort of quest for national identity.

The works of Renaissance composers and Purcell were to act as an inspiration for twentieth century British composers, resulting in the flourishing choral scene of today. Interestingly, a fresh spiritual impetus has also driven such composers as Tavener to forge their own distinctive voice.

The iconographic textures of The Lamb are typical of composers who have been dubbed the ‘holy minimalists’, and are echoed in the work of the American composers Morten Lauridsen and Eric Whitacre.

This musical element in 20th century music was also to form a central motivation for French organists such as Olivier Messiaen and Jehan Alain. Messiaen’s Joie et clarté des corps glorieux is an ecstatic vision of saints which comes from his mammoth organ cycle ‘Les Corps Glorieux’, composed in 1939.