O mysterium ineffabile Jean François Lallouette
A prayer of St Richard of Chichester LJ White
An Easter Sequence Kenneth Leighton
Ex ore innocentium John Ireland
Nunc Dimittis from the Service in C minor George Dyson
Friday Afternoons Benjamin Britten
The Salley Gardens Benjamin Britten
Oliver Cromwell Benjamin Britten
Total playing time 59m 43s
Begone Dull Care
Begone Dull Care
At the heart of a Cathedral Chorister's life is the beautiful service of Evensong (in many places sung at least six times a week) and it therefore seems appropriate to open our disc with one of the most popular unison settings of the Evening Canticles. George Dyson studied composition at the Royal College of Music from 1900-04 and was later Director there, having been Director of Music at several leading schools, including Winchester College. The Magnificat sweeps along with enormous vigour and energy whilst the completely contrasting Nunc Dimittis is more reflective. The piece is particularly well-crafted with some very mellifluous lines and can be just as easily performed by young broken voices as by upper voices.
Jean Fran=E7ois Lallouette was a much respected teacher and musician in late 17th century France. His musical style is a mixture of contemporary French and Italian idioms, after he had spent some years working in Turin. For some 27 years, he was Choirmaster at Notre Dame in Paris, though he became less reliable in attendance and eventually resigned because of fatigue. However he soon asked to return to the Cathedral as he felt his music was not being performed well enough! The delightful communion motet O mysterium ineffabile is typical of his output.
Richard of Chichester was a 13th century Bishop whose contemporaries thought him to be the model diocesan Bishop. Towards the end of his life, he preached in favour of the Crusades, not on political grounds but for a re-opening of the Holy Land to pilgrims. He was canonised in 1262, 13 years after his death, and his body now lies in a shrine behind the High Altar of Chichester Cathedral. Today he is perhaps most famous for his Prayer, which has been set many times to different styles of music. This simple version by LJ White, and dedicated to the Dudden Hill Girls' School Choir, is one of the most beautiful.
Kenneth Leighton has become one of the central influences of 20th century English Church music and his untimely death in 1989 at the age of 59 robbed the world of a great talent. His setting of the Evening Canticles written for Magdalen College, Oxford has become a true classic and will surely stand the test of time. Starting from his earliest days as a chorister at Wakefield Cathedral, church music was the main focus of his musical life, though he also wrote concertos and chamber music. He studied composition at Oxford and in Rome and was Professor of Music at Edinburgh University. His musical style is of flowing melodic lines, strong jazz-like rhythms and subtle use of dissonance, all of which are beautifully exemplified in An Easter Sequence. Written for the Berkshire Boy Choristers from the USA and first performed by them during a tour of France in 1969, Leighton uses the Propers for the Sundays after Easter and Ascension Day as the basis for the work. After an opening fanfare for all the performers, the choristers, unaccompanied and at times divided into four parts, take up the gentler theme of Christ visiting his disciples and giving them his Peace. The third section speaks of the angel telling the women at the tomb that Christ is risen. After a tortured organ interlude, the calm of Psalm 23 is immediately apparent in the music with gentle flowing lines and much use of the interval of a third (both major and minor). This section ends with a gentle Alleluia. The final movement, Sortie, is a great paean of praise beginning with an organ fanfare and concluding with a broader section in which the choristers rise up a scale echoing the final triumphant words - God is ascended.
John Ireland, a contemporary of Dyson, studied composition with Sir Charles Villiers Stanford at the RCM and his music shows many of the same influences, namely Brahms and Wagner, although many of his later works are influenced by Debussy and Ravel. Dating from 1944 and dedicated to Sir Sydney Nicholson, Ex ore innocentium (Out of the mouth of children) uses the marvellously powerful and moving words of Bishop W Waltham How to produce a work of outstanding beauty with some complex harmonies and yet keeping a child-like simplicity.
Another pupil of Stanford's at the Royal College of Music was Ralph Vaughan Williams, now well established as one of England"s greatest composers. His love of folk songs and his editorship of the original English Hymnal are well known, but he was also strongly influenced by the works of William Blake and John Bunyan and, in 1951, Vaughan Williams set Pilgrim's Progress as an opera. The Song of the Tree of Life is a revised version of one of the songs from this piece. With words adapted from the second chapter of the Book of Revelation, it is an ideal vehicle for Vaughan Williams' unique musical style, once aptly described as "natural objects seen in a translucent light". In this piece, this is exemplified by the "swaying trees" of the short organ interludes between the vocal lines.
From time to time, the Cathedral Choristers perform concerts away from Lichfield when some secular pieces are needed and Benjamin Britten's Friday Afternoons has become extremely popular at these events. This collection of songs was originally written for his brother"s choir at Clive House School in Prestatyn where choir practice took place on Friday afternoons and where Britten himself used to visit regularly to train the choir and to coach cricket! Composed over a two year period between 1933 and 1935 (around the same time as A boy was born and the Simple Symphony) and even though they are some of his earliest compositions (Op 7), they still show his brilliant characterisation of words in both the vocal parts and in the very witty piano parts, such as in There was a monkey and Jazz-Man. Throughout the work, Britten"s conveys his mastery of the complete range of emotions, from the gentle simplicity of the New Year Carol and the funeral dirge of Old Abram Brown through the flowing river of the Fisher's Song to the thrill of the chase in Ee-oh!
Britten spent much of World War II in America as a conscientious objector and it was whilst he was there that he wrote his first set of arrangements of English Folk Songs, which he dedicated to his American friends with whom he stayed. They are mostly pre-occupied with lost innocence as in The Salley Gardens. However the set ends, as does this disc, on an up-beat note with the nursery/nonsense rhyme Oliver Cromwell with the audience left in no doubt that the performance is over!
Andrew Lumsden August 1998
The Cathedral Choristers and Lammas Records gratefully acknowledge the financial assistance given by Lichfield Cathedral Shop
Recorded in Hawksyard Priory, Armitage on June 15th and 16th 1998
Produced by Paul Spicer
Recorded and edited by Lance Andrews