Once considered something of a ratbag, Samuel Sebastian Wesley is now regarded as a rather quaint figure, remembered for a handful of popular choral and organ works that make an occasional appearance with Anglican choirs.
History reveals him to have been a colourful character. Despite being the nephew of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, he was born of his father’s teenage housemaid and after a childhood stint in the Chapel Royal, he spent a lot of his early career as a musician for the theatre. Wesley’s penchant for the theatrical was reflected both in his music and in his life. His tenure in various church music jobs was never overly long and his music often attracted trenchant criticism because of its mould-breaking style and form.
While it is good to hear such evergreens as Blessed be the God and Father, Wash me throughly and Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace sung so beautifully, the real contribution of this disc is the opportunity to hear some neglected works in tasteful and disciplined performances. Ascribe unto the Lord, O give thanks unto the Lord and The wilderness and the solitary place are cast as minioratorios featuring soloists and an orchestral use of the organ. Wesley the first composer to write through-composed canticles and an account of an evening setting is one of the highlights of this disc. Well worth a listen.