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Chichester Psalms

Chichester Psalms cover picture

The Boys And Men Of Wells Cathedral Choir

Director: Malcolm Archer
Organ: Rupert Gough
Chichester Psalms Leonard Bernstein
I Psalm 108 v.2, Psalm 100
II Psalm 23, Psalm 2 vv.1-4
III Psalm 131, Psalm 133 v.1

A Song of Freedom Charles Villiers Stanford

Rejoice in the Lamb Benjamin Britten

Sacred Songs (3rd set) Alan Ridout
I Creator Spirit
II Children of the Heavenly King
III My spirit longs for Thee
IV How shall I sing that Majesty?
V Lord, though the sun forsake our sight
VI Hark, my soul
VII Creator Spirit

Jubilate Deo in C Benjamin Britten

Te Deum in C Benjamin Britten

Jubilate Deo William Walton

Total playing time 65m 56s

Chichester Psalms

Treble Solo: Robert Karlsson
Harp: Helen Tunstall
Percussion: Cameron Sinclair

Chichester Psalms

The choice of Leonard Bernstein as composer of a new work for the 1965 Southern Cathedral's Festival at Chichester Cathedral was an inspired one, and the wisdom of the organist, John Birch, and the Dean, Walter Hussey in commissioning Bernstein ensured the creation of something different and exciting, a work which was destined to become firmly in the domain of significant choral compositions of the 20th century.

The world premiere of the Chichester Psalms took place in the Philharmonic Hall, New York in 1965 with the composer conducting, followed by the performance in the Chichester Festival in July that year, conducted by John Birch. It quickly established itself as an enduringly popular work with choirs. Bernstein's stunning musicianship and instinctive talent as a composer had already been proven in his world famous works for the stage, most notably in West Side Story, a brilliant score which combines classical and popular styles in a clever, highly successful and racy manner. However, Bernstein as a composer for the church was a dimension waiting to be explored. Given his own Jewish roots, it is hardly surprising that he was attracted by the idea, nor surprising that he should choose the words of the Psalms and set them in Hebrew. Wisely, he provided two versions of the work, one for orchestra and a slimmed down, but no less effective, version for organ, harp and percussion.

The Chichester Psalms are in three movements and set words from Psalms 108, 100, 23, 2 and Psalms 131 and 133. The work was Bernstein's first composition after his third Symphony, the Kaddish Symphony. Both works have strongly Jewish influences, but where the Symphony is full of tension and despair, the Chichester Psalms is serene and joyful. It is a strongly tonal work showing Bernstein's reaction against a period of experimentation with twelve tone music, an experiment which he ultimately discarded as being untrue to his own natural musical personality: 'It just wasn't my music, it wasn't honest'. The declamatory opening uses the interval of the seventh, (an interval that pervades both the first and last movements) followed by an extrovert and highly rhythmic setting of Psalm 100. The serene second movement is the setting of Psalm 23, and opens with a lyrical solo to be sung by either a boy or a counter-tenor. The chorus sopranos echo the solo song until the serenity is broken by the men's voices singing verses from Psalm 2; 'Why do the heathen so furiously rage together', though the calm mood of the opening returns later. After an opening prelude to the third movement, reflecting some of the discord and tension of the second movement, the tranquil mood returns with a hushed and flowing melody in 10/4, a setting of Psalm 131 and the first verse of Psalm 133. Here, perhaps for the first time in the work, we catch a glimpse of Bernstein the stage composer, with his bursting melodic exuberance. The work ends with quiet and peaceful unaccompanied singing of the words;'behold how good and joyful a thing it is; brethren to dwell together in unity'.

The Boys And Men Of Wells Cathedral Choir

Wells Cathedral Choir has established an international reputation through its many recordings, broadcasts and tours. The choir, which sings the daily services in the cathedral, has an extensive repertoire from all historical periods. The music foundation at Wells consists of 18 boy choristers and 18 girl choristers (two separate choirs) 9 vicars choral, 3 choral scholars and 3 organists. The history of the choir is as old as the building itself and records of the Vicars Choral go back to 1136. It is known that there were boys singing in Wells even earlier than that. In the fourteenth century, the Bishop provided the choir with a proper income and built Vicars Close, a unique mediaeval street which still exists today housing all the organists and choirmen. In recent years the choir has included choral scholars who are either gap year students or postgraduates who serve for one or two years.

The choir regularly undertakes international tours and in recent years it has visited Canada, the USA, France, Italy, Germany, Brazil, Singapore and New Zealand. The Choir makes an average of two recordings each year, and the Vicars Choral have also produced several recordings on their own of both sacred and secular repertoire.

Robert Karlsson

Robert Karlsson (treble) is half Swedish and was born in Orebro in 1987. He comes from a musical family; his stepfather works in the music business and his grandmother was a professional singer in Sweden. He is the oldest of five children, and he lives in Highbridge in Somerset. Robert became a chorister at Wells Cathedral and a pupil at Wells Cathedral School in September 1996 and since then he has become a regular soloist with the choir as well as Deputy Head Chorister. He has twice been a finalist in the BBC Young Chorister of the Year competition and has already sung solos on several recordings with the Cathedral Choir. When Robert is not singing, he can be found enjoying a variety of sports including rugby, football, hockey and judo.

William Walton

William Walton was another composer whose influences were in some way shaped by English Cathedral Music. He entered the choir school at Christ Church, Oxford in 1912, where he remained for six years as both chorister and undergraduate. His earliest compositions date from this time, and his Jubilate Deo also has close Christ Church connections. It was written in 1972 for the English Bach Festival and given its first performance in the Cathedral under Simon Preston, with Stephen Darlington playing the organ. Walton was present to hear it. It is a rhythmically clear-cut and exuberant setting, with double choir writing at the opening, though the central section for soloists has a more gentle treatment for the words'Be ye sure that the Lord he is God'.

Alan Ridout

Alan Ridout was a prolific composer who made composition a daily and enjoyable discipline. His wide range of works include choral and organ music, chamber music, ballets, operettas and orchestral works. He also taught composition. For the majority of his working life, he lived in the shadow of cathedral music and never more fruitfully than in Canterbury, where his musical relationship with Allan Wicks was creative and productive. It was for him that he wrote his first and second sets of Sacred Songs. Alan Ridout was very drawn by the sound of different cathedral choirs with their own distinctive characteristics, and it was after hearing the sound of Guildford Cathedral boys under Barry Rose in a TV documentary about Ridout's work'Moses and the Red Sea', that he wrote his Sacred Songs, set 3 dedicating them to the Guildford choristers. Since Guildford Cathedral was dedicated to the Holy Spirit, Barry Rose suggested that a Whitsuntide theme would be appropriate, as exemplified in the opening song which is repeated at the end;'Creator Spirit, by whose Aid'.

Stanford's A Song of Freedom

Stanford's A Song of Freedom is the first of six Biblical Songs, each bearing a specific title; others include 'A Song of Peace' and 'A Song of Wisdom'. They were published in 1909 and'A Song of Freedom' was written for the voice of baritone Harry Plunket Greene (1865-1936) who was a good friend of Stanford's. It sets verses 1-4 and 5-7 from Psalm 126 as two verses each followed by the refrain 'whereof we rejoice'. Stanford intended each of these songs to be followed by an arrangement of a well-known hymn, in this case;'Let us with a gladsome mind'

Rejoice in the Lamb

The commissioning of Rejoice in the Lamb also came from the Reverend Walter Hussey, then vicar of St Matthew's Church, Northampton, who was looking for a commissioned work to celebrate the jubilee of the building in 1943. Hussey, always a great patron of the arts, commissioned not only from composers but also artists and sculptors while he was at Northampton. These included Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland and later, when he was Dean of Chichester, John Piper amongst others.

The Northampton jubilee commission was first offered to William Walton, who declined, whereupon it was offered to Benjamin Britten, who accepted. This festival cantata is scored for soloists, choir and organ and Britten chooses words from the rambling and chaotic, yet highly visionary poem Jubilate Agno by Christopher Smart, written while Smart was in a mental institution. It had been published for the first time in 1939 and Britten was introduced to it while he was in America. As Peter Porter observed:'Smart captures in his poem an innocence known only perhaps to children and the benignly insane, and in doing so shows the rest of us... that heaven does indeed lie about us'. Humphrey Carpenter, Britten's biographer, describes Rejoice in the Lamb as standing as a pair and in relation to Serenade as A Ceremony of Carols does to Hymn to St. Cecilia. '....the influence of Purcell is perceptible for the first time in Britten's music. Once more innocence is depicted in musical simplicity'.

The Purcellian influence can clearly be seen in the dotted rhythms of the Hallelujah section. It is the sheer economy of musical means which makes this work so magical. There is never a wasted note and the opening of the work is simplicity itself, with unison writing which rarely moves away from middle C, the note which is the start of every child's musical knowledge.

The cantata is in ten short sections and the poem describes how various aspects of creation worship God, each in their own fashion. The lyrical writing for 'my cat Jeoffry' is given to a boy soloist, and the organ accompaniment paints with vivid colour the feline athleticism of the cat 'wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness'. Equally athletic is the mouse, sung by the alto, whilst calm and poetic are the flowers, lyrically painted by the tenor soloist. Smart personifies the flower as 'glorifying God' and 'the root parries the adversary' whilst Britten's music responds with sublime integrity. Smart also describes his own suffering and likens the misunderstanding and mistreatment he has suffered to the suffering of Christ, though Christ's deliverance from these is an occasion to praise him. The bass solo in the eighth section describes four letters of the alphabet (ÔH is a spirit' being a pun on 'aspirate') and the ninth section for full chorus describes the musical instruments and how they praise God, before the Hallelujah section returns to finish the work.

Britten's settings of the Church Canticles

Britten's settings of the Church Canticles the Te Deum in C and Jubilate Deo though written at separate times, work well as a pair, since they are in the same key. The Te Deum was written for Maurice Vinden and the choir of St Mark's, North Audley Street, London, and the Jubilate for the choir of St. George's Chapel, Windsor, at the request of H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh. Britten's ingenious and original treatment of these texts reflects the musical imagination of a man unhampered by the sound of other familiar settings. Since he was not a church musician, he was able to approach these commissions from an entirely fresh viewpoint, and in so doing he created two enduring masterpieces. Again, musical simplicity is the key, and never more effectively than in the opening of the Te Deum in C which is built entirely on various inversions of a C major chord. The words'Thou art the King of glory, O Christ' are seen through the eyes of a child, with a hauntingly lyrical treble solo. The vocal writing throughout the work is always colourfully and perfectly matched to the words, and the organ part is always supportive, effective and never lacking in interest. The charming Jubilate Deo is a concise and vivacious setting with a lively accompaniment and the bell-like opening consists of answering phrases from the upper and lower voices.

Recorded in Wells Cathedral on 3rd, 4th, 5th July 2000
By kind permission of the Dean and Chapter
Produced by Barry Rose
Recorded and edited by Lance Andrews
Photographs by Rob Ruutel