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A Celebration of British Cathedral Music

A Celebration of British Cathedral Music cover picture

The Choirs of All Saints, Northampton

Director: Richard Tanner
Organ: Ronald Gates and Roger Palmer
Sicut Cervus Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
If ye love me Thomas Tallis
Let my complaint Thomas Morley
There shall a star from Jacob come forth Felix Mendelssohn
Wash me throughly from my wickedness Samuel Sebastian Wesley
Magnificat in B flat Charles Villiers Stanford
Salve Regina Plainsong
Nunc Dimittis in B flat Charles Villiers Stanford
Fear not, O Land Edward Elgar
Save us, O Lord Edward Cuthbert Bairstow
Jesu, grant me this I pray Percy Whitlock
Prevent us, O Lord Derek Holman
Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks Herbert Howells
Ave Maria Simon Lindley
Jubilate Deo Benjamin Britten
Love Eternal Simon Lole
Father, we thank thee David Sanger
Let all the world in every corner sing Kenneth Leighton

Total playing time 64m 01s

A Celebration of British Cathedral Music

A Celebration of British Cathedral Music

The title of this recording takes its name from the festival at St. John the Evangelist, Newport, Rhode Island USA, which the choir (boys and men) of All Saints Church, Northampton was invited to take part in as choir in residence during the summer of 1995. Many of the pieces selected here were heard by enthusiasts who attended some thirteen choral services within just six days.

Music has been heard in the great Cathedrals, Collegiate Foundations and some Churches in England since their earliest times. Today, on most days of the week, if you visit such a foundation you will be able to hear a choir of boys and men, and in addition an increasing number of girls' choirs, singing from a unique and varied repertoire spanning many hundreds of years, for the most part written specifically for the Book of Common Prayer. Evensong has been the most commonly sung service in the Church of England since 1549 when Cranmer simplified and condensed the seven offices of the mediaeval church into the pattern we have today. The vast repertoire of music available is not just British. The glorious and ancient Roman Catholic liturgy gives us anthems, introits and plainsong from Italy, Spain and France. The North European tradition gives us hymn tunes, anthems and motets by Bach, Handel, Mendelssohn, Haydn and Mozart. The majority of the repertoire is that written on these islands, from the time when music was first written down, through the glories of the Elizabethan age, to the nineteenth and twentieth century composers working in this eclectic tradition, to glorious effect.

The recording opens with music not from Britain, but from Rome. The music of Palestrina, which always expresses an intense spiritual quality, is well established at the heart of the repertoire of British Cathedral choirs. The four part motet Sicut Cervus is a typical example of Palestrina's style, in terms of the treatment of dissonance, the rise and fall of the melodic line and the use of imitation which combine to create a truly heavenly quality.

Palestrina's English contemporary, Thomas Tallis, served the church in England throughout the turbulent years of religious upheaval during the middle decades of the sixteenth century. As well as holding posts at Dover Priory, Mary-at-Hill (London), Waltham Abbey and Canterbury Cathedral, Tallis was a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, where he served under four monarchs, from Henry VIII until Elizabeth I. As the religious leanings of the various monarchs changed, so did the style of music that Tallis was required to write. Whereas certain compositions, written for Roman Catholic liturgy, are extended and florid, If ye love me, composed shortly after the publication of the first Prayer Book of the Church of England (1549), is simpler in form. Much of the charm of this anthem, suitable for Pentecost, is created by the succinct imitative points which follow the homophonic opening.

Also writing in the sixteenth century was Thomas Morley of Norwich Cathedral. Let my complaint is an example of the 'verse' style which began to be developed in the second half of the century, notably by William Byrd, but also by his pupil Morley as one of the pioneers. Sections for solo voices, supported by organ accompaniment, alternate with passages for full choir. Let my complaint, scored for men's voices only, is a welcome addition to the repertoire for occasions when boys are not available. The verse style was further developed in the seventeenth century by Purcell and his contemporaries and we hope to include music from that period and the eighteenth century in a future recording.

Felix Mendelssohn spent much time in Britain. His six organ sonatas were written for and first published in England, the famous oratorio Elijah was first performed in Birmingham in 1846 and he wrote Fingal's Cave ('Hebrides') overture, first performed by the London Philharmonic Society, as a result of a visit to Scotland. There shall a star, written in the last year of the composer's life and sung by many choirs at Epiphany, comes from the unfinished oratorio Christus (Op. 97).

One of the most remarkable characters of English Cathedral music in the nineteenth century was Samuel Sebastian Wesley, who at the age of 22 became organist of Hereford Cathedral. Before the end of his career he also held similar positions at Exeter, Winchester and Gloucester Cathedrals as well as Leeds Parish Church. He was a fine and prolific composer, and worked hard to raise the standard of Cathedral music throughout the country. Many of Wesley's anthems are on a grand scale, but Wash me throughly is a beautiful and compact setting of the penitential text.

With Evensong as the most commonly sung service in English Cathedrals, settings of Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis, the two prescribed canticles at that service, have been written by many composers. Stanford, who was born in Dublin, spent much of his life in Cambridge. He wrote in most idioms, much for the church, including at least five settings of service music (incorporating music for Matins, Communion and Evensong). The popularity of his settings of the Canticles is largely due to the 'symphonic' character of his writing. This concept of developing themes in a coherent manner, with well-designed modulations and climaxes was completely new and has proved popular to this day. This setting, in B flat, is the earliest, from 1879, when he was organist of Trinity College, Cambridge.

At Evensong a New Testament reading is heard between the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis. Long before the Magnificat was adopted for use in the Book of Common Prayer, it was used in the Roman Office of Vespers, preceded and followed by an antiphon, though not Salve Regina. It seems appropriate in this recording to separate the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis with the Salve Regina as the Magnificat is the Song of Mary and the Salve Regina is the antiphon of the Blessed Virgin Mary for use from Whitsun until Advent. The choirmen of All Saints particularly enjoyed singing this Antiphon to a church full of people lit just by candlelight at the conclusion to Compline in S. John the Evangelist, Newport, Rhode Island. Edward Elgar was a Roman Catholic and was organist of St George's Roman Catholic Church, Sansome Place, Worcester. He was also much involved with the music at Worcester Cathedral, especially through the Three Choirs' Festival. As a composer of sacred music he is particularly known for his oratorios and the large-scale anthems Great is the Lord (written for Westminster Abbey) and Give unto the Lord (written for St Paul's Cathedral). Fear not, O Land was written for a Novello series for Parish Church choirs. Because of its Harvest subject it is a useful addition to the repertoire of such choirs given the importance of Harvest festivals in Parish Churches and the relatively small number of compositions available for that occasion. Next, two important composers of British Cathedral Music are remembered especially in the year that this recording was made, Percy Whitlock and Edward Bairstow both died fifty years ago and on the same day, May 1st, 1946. Bairstow, having served as organist of Wigan and Leeds Parish Churches, was organist of York Minster from 1913 until he died. He was one of the finest and most individual composers of English Church Music in the early part of this century, his most popular composition being Blessed City, heavenly Salem. Save us O Lord, on a much smaller scale, is a charming setting of a text from the Compline service, composed for the Festival of the Wigan and District Church Association in 1902.

Percy Whitlock is best remembered as a composer of organ music, the sonata in C minor (1938) being amongst the finest of British organ works. He held positions as assistant organist of Rochester Cathedral, organist of St Stephen's, Bournemouth and borough organist of Bournemouth. Jesu, grant me this I pray is an expressive four-part Hymn-Anthem full of colourful harmony and effective suspensions.

The English organist and teacher Derek Holman was warden of the Royal School of Church Music before emigrating to Canada in 1965 to be organist of Grace Church on the Hill, Toronto. He is currently Organist and Choirmaster at St Simon's Toronto and on the staff at the University. The ethereal setting of a text from the Book of Common Prayer Prevent us, O Lord was written for the choristers of St. Stephen's, Rochester Row, London. Herbert Howells, a pupil of Brewer, Wood and Stanford, has been described as the last of the great 'Victorian' composers. He was a chorister of Gloucester Cathedral, for a short while assistant organist at Salisbury and during the second world war was acting organist of St John's College Cambridge. Like as the hart (Psalm 42) is the third, and best known, of four anthems written in January 1941.

Simon Lindley, the present organist of Leeds Parish Church, is the third organist of that church to be represented on this recording, thus demonstrating the important place that that church has in the tradition of British Cathedral Music. Lindley's Ave Maria has become very popular in the repertoire of choirs which regularly perform music for trebles alone. At All Saints we are delighted that Simon is a Patron of our organisation, The Friends of All Saints' Music.

Britten's association with Northampton is well known, The Prelude and Fugue on a theme of Vittoria (1946) and Rejoice in the Lamb (1943), were written for the Church of St Matthew's, Northampton, which has benefited from the patronage that its former Vicar, Walter Hussey, gave to the arts. Britten's Jubilate (1966) in C was written at the request of the Duke of Edinburgh for use at St George's Windsor. Its joyful character is supplied mainly by relentless ebullient semi-quavers in the organ part.

Simon Lole, another Patron of The Friends of All Saints' Music, has been a great support during the setting up of a girls' choir at All Saints and the girls thoroughly enjoyed working with him in a master-class during their first choir tour. Love Eternal, was composed for a recording of his girls' choir whilst Simon was Director of Music at St Mary's, Warwick and seemed the obvious choice as the first recording of the girls' choir of All Saints. It has recently been published by Banks as part of their Eboracum Choral Series. Simon is currently Master of the Music at Sheffield Cathedral.

The final two pieces on this recording both have a Northampton connection. Also published by Banks, Father, we thank thee was written by David Sanger (as a surprise!) for Richard Tanner to use at weekday services at All Saints' Church. Here we use counter-tenors in the second verse for variety of texture, but normally we perform the optional second part with divided trebles. David Sanger, an organ recitalist and teacher of great distinction, was the organ advisor for the building of the Walker organ of Exeter College, Oxford in the French Romantic Tradition - the organ which accompanies the choir on this recording.

Let all the world in every corner sing was composed for Michael Nicholas and the choir of St Matthew's, Northampton in 1965. The jubilation of Kenneth Leighton's setting is characterised by tremendous rhythmic vitality.

All Saints' Church and the Choirs

The Church of All Saints, Northampton, is built on the site of a great Norman Collegiate Church which was almost completely destroyed by the Fire of Northampton in 1675. All that remained was the mediaeval tower. By 1680 the church had been rebuilt with the help of donations from all over England, including 1,000 tons of timber from King Charles II. A statue of that King adorns the portico. All Saints' Church is built in the Renaissance style and its design is attributed to Henry Bell of Kings Lynn. Although the body of the church was completed in 1680, the Portico was not finished until 1701, and the cupola was added to the Tower in 1704.

All Saints is the Civic Church of Northampton and has considerable connections with the Town and County. The courts are opened, the Mayor hallowed and many organisations seek to give thanks for their foundation within the Church. The life of Town and County is celebrated here. A regular pattern of worship has always been at the heart of the life of the church. Records state that in 1388 there were four daily services, two of these were with music. Today the Eucharist is celebrated daily (twice on Sunday) and choral Evensong can be heard on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. The Lay Clerks sing Compline about once a month on a Friday evening and on each Friday during Lent.

Music is an important part of the life of the church, not only through the regular and special services but also through concerts by a variety of artists. It also plays an important part in the mission and outreach of the parish, especially through the recruitment of children and adults to sing in the choirs.

A choir of boys and men has made music in the church for as long as it has been built. As there is no choir school, boys are drawn from a wide range of local schools. Parental involvement and commitment is great and so is the reward to the child, musically and personally. An important aspect of this choir is the nurturing of 'broken' voices and a choral scholarship scheme has recently been introduced in order to train choirmen for the future. In recent years the choir has broadcast on local radio stations and have appeared on GMTV. Each year the choir tours, usually in the UK but in 1993 they visited France and in 1995 the USA where they sang in Rhode Island and S. Thomas' 5th Avenue, New York.

The Girls' Choir was formed towards the end of 1994 to give girls similar choral opportunities to those that boys have been receiving in the church for centuries. Simon Lole's Love Eternal was recorded on their first tour, in Portsmouth. It is hoped that as the choir develops it will broadcast, record and tour widely. Already it is beginning to integrate into the life of All Saints Church, through their weekly Tuesday Evensong, six Sunday Evensongs each year with the lay clerks and regular special services, such as Evensong for the Eve of All Saints, Requiems for the Feast of All Souls and Remembrance Sunday and the Three Hours devotion on Good Friday. Concerts, with the boys and men, are also being scheduled to incorporate all of the combinations available. This is an exciting and essential development in the life of All Saints', Northampton.

Richard Tanner

A former chorister of St Paul's Cathedral, Richard studied the organ with Robert Gower at Radley College and since 1987 with David Sanger at the Royal Academy of Music and Oxford University. As organ scholar of Exeter College, Oxford he was responsible for organising and directing the choir of men and boys, with whom he recorded Allegri's Miserere for the television series Inspector Morse and toured in Austria and the UK.

After Oxford he spent a year as organ scholar of St Albans' Cathedral where he worked with Dr Barry Rose. In September 1993 he came to All Saints where he is reinforcing the musical tradition - the training of the boys and men, the founding of a girls' choir, planning tours (such as the 1995 USA tour) and organising concerts. He holds the Fellowship Diploma of the Royal College of Organists and enjoys giving organ recitals in the UK and abroad and accompanying choirs and choral societies.

Ronald Gates

Ron was born in Northampton and received his earliest musical training as a chorister of All Saints under Ralph Richardson-Jones. He furthered his studies with Robert Joyce and Dr Ben Burrows. He is a graduate of Dublin University (Trinity College) and holds the Fellowship Diploma of the Royal College of Organists. He was for 21 years sub-organist of St Matthew's Church, Northampton where he worked with a number of important church musicians, such as Michael Nicholas and Stephen Cleobury. Since 1992 he has been Organist and Choirmaster of Christ Church, Northampton and an Assistant Organist of All Saints.

Roger Palmer

Roger moved to Northampton in 1989 and has been an Assistant at All Saints since 1991. Having learnt the organ in his teens, he quickly became an Assistant at Luton Parish Church. He had the honour of playing when the Queen and the Royal Family attended the church from Luton Hoo Country House. He is also widely travelled musically as an accompanist for All Saints' Choir, Luton Choral Society and the Lea Singers in Denmark, France, Germany, USA and Sweden. Roger's first loyalty is to All Saints, where his younger son is Head Chorister.

The choir of boys and men, recorded on 14, 15 & 16 July 1996 in Exeter College, Oxford by kind permission of the Home Bursar.
The girls' choir, recorded on 30th August 1996 in Portsmouth Cathedral, by kind permission of the Provost.
Produced by David Trendell & Magnus Williamson
Recorded by Lance Andrews
The choirs would like to thank the following: Simon Heyward, Mary Matthews, David Cain, Philippa Hyde & Charles Cole.