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Recordings: Instrumental Hymns

This is a brief series recommending good, conservative sacred music recordings. I began the series with several introductory remarks and a list of good albums of choral hymns and anthems. Last week I suggested several albums of Psalms sung in English. This final installment will list some different instrumental recordings of hymns. My list, again, is not exhaustive, and includes several recordings that could be considered “classical.”

1. A Bach Celebration. Christopher Parkening and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. (EMI, 1990.) Although this is a selection of Bach gems, hymns are included, including “Sleepers Awake,” “What God Ordains is Always Good,” and “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”

2. Simple Gifts. Christopher Parkening. (EMI, 1990.) This album contains more hymns, played masterfully on the guitar by Parkening.

3. Bach’s Organ Works: Influences of Cantata, Concerto & Chamber Music. Bine Katrine Bryndorf. (Hanssler Classics, 1999.) A great place to go for superb instrumental hymns (some familiar, some not) are Bach’s chorales. Other selections along these lines could be offered. This particular album has Bach’s own organ arrangements of some of the great chorales used in his cantatas that we still sing today, like “Blessed Jesus, at Thy Word,” “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying,” “If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee,” and others.

4. Bach Festival for Brass. Empire Brass. (EMI, 1990.) This album is a selection of Bach favorites transcribed for brass. Beyond that, it is an excellent resource for great hymns. Hymns on this album (that we’re most familiar with) include “Good Christian Men, Rejoice,” “Now Thank We All our God,” “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” and “O Sacred Head Now Wounded.” Again, Bach is a great source for instrumental hymns.

5. Classical Hymns. John Mock. (Green Hill, 1995.) This album contains a nice variety of string ensembles and guitar solos playing great traditional hymns. For some reason, my children really like this album, and it’s not what most people would consider “kid’s stuff” (it’s probably because they’ve been listening to it for nearly a decade).

6 – 7. Yo-Yo Ma and Ton Koopman. Simply Baroque(Sony, 2003.) Simply Baroque II. (Sony, 2000.) Although both albums contain Boccherini concerti, these two albums are splendid recordings of Bach “standards” transcribed for cello and orchestra. And these standards, again, include hymns. The first album contains “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” and other chorale greats. The second volume contains, “What God Ordains is Always Good,” “Sleepers Awake,” and “If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee.”

8. God of Grace and Glory. Terry Yount and Chris Dolske. (Ligonier Ministries, 2008.) Ligonier has been producing some decent stuff as well. Here’s a pleasant album of organ and the occasional trumpet playing various hymns and sacred pieces.

9. Beloved Swedish Psalm Melodies. Osmo Vanska. (BIS, 2003.) Osmo Vanska, Grammy nominated music director of the Minnesota Orchestra, has produced some orchestral recordings of hymns. This particular album contains “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” “Day by Day,” Hyfrydol, “Children of the Heavenly Father,” a recording of “How Great Thou Art” with surprising nuance, “Fairest Lord Jesus,” “Nearer My God to Thee,” “Abide with Me,” “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,” “God of the Glorious Sunshine,” and “O Sacred Head Now Wounded.”

10. Simple Gifts. Saint Andrews Strings. (Ligonier Ministries, 2007.) Another good album from Ligonier with a selection of classical standards and traditional hymns. And Ashokan Farewell, randomly enough.

11. The Lord is My Shepherd. David Kim and Paul S. Jones. (Paul Jones Music, 2006.) I’m not terribly familiar with this recording, but I include it here for sake of its fresh arrangements simply played with cello violin and accompanied piano. Though the album includes too many gospel songs, even those arrangements are imaginative enough to transcend some of the musical cliches found in such fare.

12. Stokowski: Bach Transcriptions. Jose Serebrier and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. (Naxos, 2006.) Yes, here is another recording of Bach transcriptions. Not everything on this album is a hymn or even sacred, but several pieces are. Played under the capable direction of Jose Serebrier are Leopold Stokowski’s classical orchestral transcriptions of Bach’s arrangements of “Come, Sweet Death,” “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands,” “We Believe in One God,” and “Savior of the Nations, Come.” Also included is the ancient tune ‘Veni Emmanuel,’ or “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

13. Vaughan Williams: Fantasies, The Lark Ascending; Five Variants. Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. (Decca, 1990.) One must at least mention Vaughan Williams when it comes to instrumental versions of hymns. This particular album features three out of four great examples. His Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis is an arrangement (of sorts) of the famous “Third Mode Melody” (aka, the psalm setting “Why Fum’th in Fight?”). This hymn tune is sometimes used today for “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say.” His Fantasia on Greensleeves uses the tune to which we sing “What Child is This?” His Five Variants of ‘Dives and Lazarus’ uses the tune Kingsfold, to which we sing “My God, I Love Thee” (and, again, Bonar’s “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say”). Other music by Vaughan Williams could be included here, like his Fifth Symphony (again using Tallis’ ‘Third Mode Melody’), his Two Hymn-Tune Preludes, his Three Preludes Founded on Welsh Hymn Tunes, and his Household Music (Abeystwyth).

About Ryan Martin

Ryan Martin is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Granite Falls, Minnesota. Prior to that, he served as the associate pastor of Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is on the board of directors of Religious Affections Ministries. Ryan received his undergraduate degree at Northland Baptist Bible College, and has received further training from Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minn. (M.Div., 2004; Ph.D., 2013). He was ordained in 2009 at Bible Baptist Church of Elk River, Minn. (now Otsego, Minn.). He has a wife and children too. Ryan is the associate editor of Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). He contributed to the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans, 2017) and is the author of Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: "The High Exercises of Divine Love" (T&T Clark, 2018).