2016 / Quiet Rain Music
Review by Kathy Parsons
Cantum Laudus is a collection of fourteen hymns arranged for solo piano and performed by Greg Starr. The songs are listed by their original titles, but Starr identifies them by their hymn names in the cover notes along with the composers and the approximate dates the pieces were written. Several of the songs are frequently-heard gems like “Be Thou My Vision,” “For the Beauty of the Earth,” and “Jesus Loves Me,” but Starr has managed to bring a new freshness to each one. The arrangements are mostly quiet and prayerful, focusing on the beauty of the melodies and expressing the meaning of the songs without the use of words. This is Greg Starr’s fourth album, and I’m sure that fans of solo piano will embrace Cantum Laudus whether or not they are familiar with these hymns. I love the simplicity of the arrangements and the grace with which they are performed. The cover artwork is also exceptional!
Cantum Laudus begins with “Royal Oak (All Things Bright and Beautiful),” a hymn built around an English folk song from the 1600’s. Gentle and warmly inviting, it’s a lovely opening track. “Duke Street (Jesus Shall Reign)” begins with a single repeated note behind the melody, and becomes more flowing in the second verse, reverting to the single repeated note and melody near the end - a gorgeous arrangement! “For the Beauty of the Earth” is a favorite hymn of many people, expressing gratitude for the wonders of the natural world. “Slane (Be Thou My Vision)” is another very popular hymn, but Starr makes it his own, keeping it open and heartfelt. I was surprised to learn that this song goes back to about 530-598 in Ireland. “Jesus Loves Me” is one of the first hymns most children learn, and Starr’s arrangement begins very simply for the first stanza, becoming a slow and soulful gospel piece - a favorite! “Erhalt Uns, Herr (Lord, Keep Us Steadfast In Your Word)” was a new hymn for me. Dating back to the 1500’s, it is more melancholy than most of the other songs, and Starr’s expressive interpretation flows from the heart - another favorite! “Give Me Jesus” is an African-American spiritual that works wonderfully as a piano solo. Many people think of the 1971 Cat Stevens hit when they hear “Morning is Broken,” but this nugget goes back to the 1800’s. Starr’s arrangement includes a very effective use of the damper pedal to create the feeling of space and openness - beautiful! The tune for “Kingsfold (I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say)” is thought to date back to the Middle Ages. Haunting in its dark richness, this is my favorite song on the album. “Schonster Herr Jesu (Beautiful Savior),” also known as “Fairest Lord Jesus,” brings this excellent album to a close with a warm message of love and hope.
Cantum Laudus is a soothing and uplifting collection of solo piano hymns that everyone can relate to and enjoy. It is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Highly recommended!
June 10, 2016