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Britten - Missa Brevis

Britten - Missa Brevis cover picture

Britten - Missa Brevis and other works for treble voices featuring Kieran White

Director: Malcolm Archer
Organ: David Bednall
Missa Brevis in D Benjamin Britten
Agnus Dei

Lux aeterna Nadia Boulanger

If with all your hearts Felix Mendelssohn

The Call Ralph Vaughan Williams

Be still, for the presence of the Lord David J Evans arr. Malcolm Archer

Brightest and Best Malcolm Archer

Lead kindly light Malcolm Archer

Ex ore innocentium John Ireland

Song for a young prophet Damian Lundy arr. Malcolm Archer

When I survey the wondrous cross Malcolm Archer

We give thee thanks, O Lord Philip Moore

Pie Jesu Gabriel Fauré

I call on thee Stanley Vann

A grateful heart Mary Plumstead

I will lift up mine eyes Noel Rawsthorne

And now another day is gone Leonard Blake

Nunc Dimittis in D George Dyson

Total playing time 58m 40s

Britten - Missa Brevis

The Boy Choristers of Wells Cathedral

Britten - Missa Brevis and other works for treble voices featuring Kieran White

Benjamin Britten’s Missa Brevis in D was written in 1959 for the boys of Westminster Cathedral Choir. Britten had heard the boys sing under their director George Malcolm and had been excited by the unconventional strong-toned singing that they produced. Malcolm was shortly due to retire from his post and had worked to cultivate this hard-edged ‘continental’ sound that was utterly different from the traditional soft tones of the recent Anglican choral tradition. The work displays Britten’s characteristic flair for writing for children but retains a devout liturgical gravitas. The decisive opening of the Kyrie immediately presents declamatory vocal writing as each of the three treble parts enter. The Gloria with its 7/8 metre is a jaunty setting that immediately appeals to young performers and lends appropriate joy to the text. The Sanctus begins with pealing bell-like phrases that overlap to form a twelve-note row; this twelve-note figure then moves into the organ pedal at ‘Pleni sunt coeli’ before the organ breaks into a rhapsodic accompaniment to the peaking ‘Hosanna’ phrases of the voices. The Benedictus has a wonderful and poignant innocence in its duet for solo voices in canon leading to a reprise of the ‘Hosanna’. The Agnus Dei returns to the darker mood of the Kyrie but even more so in this bleak setting. The ostinato bass of the organ underpins an edgy dissonant right-hand with the voices singing a forlorn melodic line. The dynamics build from pianissimo to forte as the anguished plea is repeated. As the words move from ‘miserere nobis’ to ‘dona nobis pacem’ the voices adopt a growing figure of repeated notes eventually fading to what is almost a final whisper.

Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) wrote this moving Lux Aeterna in memory of her sister, Lili. Lili Boulanger was an extremely gifted composer who tragically died at the age of 25. The piece was originally score for harp, soprano solo, violin and cello; here it has been sensitively arranged for organ by the international recitalist David Briggs (Organist of Gloucester Cathedral 1994 - 2002) who transcribed the work from a recording that was made in memory of Lili Boulanger.

If with all your heart is an aria from Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah. Considered by many to be his greatest work, Elijah was given its first performance on 26 August 1846 at the Birmingham Festival, conducted by the composer. The work was originally written to a German text but, as Mendelssohn spoke fluent English, he took great pains that the English version would be as true a translation as possible. Elijah was a subject that Mendelssohn had long wanted to set to music and he greatly enjoyed the work’s success before his untimely death the following year aged only 38. The work draws largely from the Biblical account of Elijah in the book of Kings. This particular aria occurs early in the work. Right from the outset, Mendelssohn throws his audience headlong into the drama as, breaking with tradition, he opens the oratorio with a recitative As God the Lord of Israel liveth, in which Elijah prophecies the forthcoming drought in Israel. After this dark beginning and the chorus’ desperate Help, Lord! wilt thou quite destroy us?, the character Obadiah interposes this aria of hope - If with all your hearts - offering a small comfort to those who would repent but still with an edge of desperation.

The Call is the fourth of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs. Settings of poems by George Herbert, Vaughan Williams began the songs in 1906 and revised them in 1910-11 before the first performance in Worcester Cathedral on 14 September 1911. Originally scored for baritone, chorus and orchestra the songs can be adapted as is the case here without detriment to Vaughan Williams’ stunning music. Herbert’s poems are full of musical imagery and this, along with their romantic and sensual nature, evidently inspired the composer enormously. The Call is set to a timeless modal melody that is instantly recognisable as being Vaughan Williams’ music.

Be still for the presence of the Lord – This is an arrangement for solo voice and piano by Malcolm Archer of the atmospheric and beautiful song with words and music composed by David J Evans (born 1957).

Brightest and Best was composed for Phillip Bell and the boys’ choir of Eccles Hall School by Malcolm Archer in 1987. Both this piece and When I Survey have become extremely popular amongst children’s choirs throughout the world.

Another of Malcolm Archer’s pieces, Lead kindly light was written for a publication of music for treble voices by Kevin Mayhew Ltd. The piece works equally well when sung by a solo voice (as here) or by a treble voice choir, and the accompaniment may be played on either piano or organ.

The short motet Ex ore innocentium is a setting by John Ireland (1879-1962) of a Passiontide poem by Bishop W W How (1823-1897). Ireland was born in Bowden, near Manchester, and at the age of fourteen entered the then newly-founded Royal College of Music in London. His parents died shortly after this and Ireland immersed himself in his studies in composition, piano and organ. He studied composing under Sir Charles Villiers Stanford but was later to destroy many of the youthful works written at this time. Ireland’s life combined composition with his teaching at the Royal College (where Britten was amongst his pupils). Ireland always had a deep regard for church music and held the position of organist and choirmaster at St Luke’s Church, Chelsea, London. He wrote numerous anthems and service settings amongst which this often harrowingly beautiful motet is amongst his most well-loved.

Song for a young prophet is arranged here by Malcolm Archer. The composer, Damian Lundy, a De La Salle brother since 1960, died in 1996 in Oxford. He made a great contribution to Catholic education and liturgy, particularly through his prolific output of liturgical songs such as Song for a Young Prophet ("O the word of my Lord..") and as editor of three volumes of Songs of the Spirit.

When I survey the wondrous cross was written for Barry Rose and the Choristers of St Alban’s Abbey in the early 1990s and was first performed by them at an evensong in the Abbey. It sets the famous text by Isaac Watts in a lyrical yet poignant way.

We give thee thanks O Lord is a serene setting of a prayer for the end of the day. Philip Moore was born in London in 1943 and received his musical education at the Royal College of Music, where he studied the organ, piano, composition and conducting. In 1968 he became Assistant Organist at Canterbury Cathedral. In 1974 he went on to succeed Dr. Barry Rose as Organist and Master of the Choristers at Guildford Cathedral then going on in 1983 to become Organist and Master of the Music at York Minster where he succeeded Dr. Francis Jackson. His work as a composer is well known and he has written extensively for the church and the organ.

The beautiful Pie Jesu from Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem (Op. 48) needs little introduction. Fauré’s intimate liturgical setting was written when the composer was 42. The death of his father two years earlier and the more recent death of his mother had led him to suffer from deep depressions, yet his music for the Requiem contains no harrowing glimpses of hell. Fauré himself described his Requiem as how he saw death: “as a happy deliverance, an inspiration towards happiness above, rather than as a painful experience”.

I call on thee was written by Dr Stanley Vann OBE. Born in 1910 in Coventry, Vann was Organist and Master of the Music at Peterborough Cathedral for many
years. He was previously organist of Chelmsford Cathedral, and before that worked in Leicester where he assisted Sir Henry Wood as chorus master of the Philharmonic choir. A choir trainer of great renown, Stanley Vann has written much church music. Here sung by a solo voice, this is a simple yet highly effective setting of a prayer of faith written by the once Bishop of Exeter, Miles Coverdale (1487-1568)."

The composer of A grateful heart, Mary Plumstead (1905-80), spent most of her life in Devon and Cornwall. Despite writing many beautiful songs she never really came to great prominence as a composer in her own lifetime. This may be due to the small number of her songs that were actually published, or because she did not set out to gain wider recognition in London. A grateful heart is now firmly established in the repertoire of most children’s choirs and is a small gem of an anthem.

This appropriately serene setting of this text from Psalm 121 - I will lift up mine eyes - was written by Noel Rawsthorne. Rawsthorne was born on Christmas Eve in 1929 in Birkenhead on Merseyside. He was first a chorister, then assistant organist and finally appointed Organist of Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral in 1955. Rawsthorne has also had a busy career as a recitalist which he has continued since his retirement from the Cathedral in 1980. The organ provides a lilting accompaniment to the gentle solo line.

Leonard Blake (1907-1989) wrote his short but beautiful setting of Isaac Watt’s poem And now another day is gone in 1937. Blake was Director of Music at Malvern College and was very active in the Royal School of Church Music Festivals both directing choirs and writing music. A harmonised version of this melody was included in Hymns Ancient and Modern Revised in 1950.

This setting of the Nunc dimittis (The Song of Simeon) is from George Dyson’s Evening Service in D. Dyson (1883-1964) was born in Halifax, West Yorkshire and studied at the Royal College of Music where he was later to become Director. From an early age he was very much influenced by church music and was organist of a church in Greenwich. He subsequently wrote much sacred music that quickly entered the Anglican choral repertoire.

Iain McLeod-Jones
Wells October 2004

Malcolm Archer

Malcolm Archer was appointed Organist and Master of the Choristers at Wells Cathedral in 1996 where he directed and trained the Cathedral choir for its daily services in the Cathedral, as well as being the Musical Director for Wells Cathedral Oratorio Society. He was appointed as Organist and Director of Music at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London in 2004.

Malcolm was educated at King Edward VII School, Lytham, the Royal College of Music (where he was an RCO scholar) and Jesus College Cambridge where he was organ scholar. He studied the organ with Ralph Downes, Gillian Weir and Nicolas Kynaston, and composition with Herbert Sumsion and Alan Ridout. He continues to study the organ with Daniel Roth in Paris. He has given organ concerts in nine European countries, Canada and the USA. Amongst other notable invitations, he has played for the IAO Congress on more than one occasion and given the Winston Churchill Memorial Concert at Blenheim Palace. He has also recorded for BBC Radio 2 and Radio 3, and played at most principal venues in the UK. He has recorded six organ CDs in repertoire as varied as J.S.Bach and Olivier Messiaen.

Malcolm Archer is also a prolific composer with well over 200 published works. His work Three Psalms of David was premiered in Wells Cathedral as part of the Classics West Festival, with the Classics West International Chorus and The Virtuosi of London. He has also written a five movement millennium work for Lichfield Cathedral, called The Coming of the Kingdom. He was commissioned to write works for The Southern Cathedrals’ Festival, the Exeter Festival and the Musica Deo Sacra Festival. He has recently been commissioned to write a work for the 350th Sons of the Clergy Festival in 2004, which is held in St. Paul’s Cathedral. His works receive regular performances on BBC Radio and TV.

Malcolm Archer is an examiner and council member for the Royal College of Organists and an examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music.

David Bednall

David Bednall is a student of Dr. Naji Hakim and David Briggs, and is currently Acting Assistant Organist at Wells Cathedral.

He was born in 1979 and studied in Sherborne and then at The Queen’s College, Oxford where he was Organ Scholar. In 2000 the Chapel Choir toured Paris under his direction, singing at Notre Dame and other venues, and released a live concert CD.

In 2000 he was appointed Organ Scholar at Gloucester Cathedral under David Briggs and Ian Ball. While there he spent periods as Acting Director of Music and Acting Assistant Organist, was closely involved in the Three Choirs Festival, and was involved in two recordings – as Director on Lux Aeterna with the Cathedral Choir, and as Accompanist on the critically acclaimed Comfort and Joy with the Saint Cecilia Singers.

He was a prize-winner in Improvisation and Performance at the examination for Fellow of The Royal College of Organists in 2002, and has given recitals at L’Église de La Trinité, Paris, Westminster, Wells, Bristol, Gloucester, Hereford, Worcester, Truro, Blackburn, Coventry, Manchester and St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, as part of the Fringe Series. He is Director of Cantilena choir, and is also in demand as an accompanist.

Recorded in Ampleforth Abbey on 2nd April 2004 by kind permission of the Abbot and in Wells Cathedral (Kieran’s solos) on 28th May 2004 by kind permission of the Dean and Chapter

Produced by Iain McLeod-Jones
Recorded and edited by Lance Andrews
Organist's Assistant: Brian McGee
Photograph of Wells Cathedral by Lance Andrews