Ego sum panis vivus G P da Palestrina
Hear my prayer Felix Mendelssohn
O Lord, look down from heaven Jonathan Battishill
Miserere mei, Deus Gregorio Allegri
A Litany William Walton
The ways of Sion do mourn Michael Wise
Panis Angelicus César Franck
Lo, the full, final sacrifice Gerald Finzi
Total playing time 71m 59s
Samuel Sebastian Wesley
Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876) held posts in several English Cathedrals and at Winchester College, and was a great campaigner for reforming cathedral music which had descended to a low ebb in the first part of the nineteenth century. As a composer, he was the greatest and most significant between Purcell and Stanford and no more so than in his miniature works, of which Wash me throughly is one of the most haunting. The rising figuration of the opening solo is developed with a superb command of contrapuntal texture and daring harmony.
Giovanni Pierluigi Da Palestrina
Giovanni Pierluigi Da Palestrina (?1525-1594) composed prolifically for the church with no fewer than 104 masses and over 240 motets. He, along with Byrd and Lassus, is acknowledged as one of the greatest ever masters of polyphonic writing and his motet Ego sum panis vivus is one of the most lovely and most loved. In honour of the blessed sacrament and therefore central to the Maundy Thursday liturgies in Holy Week, it is in four parts.
Although he composed many works for the church (many of which are relatively rarely performed), Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) is perhaps best-known for his 1844 setting Hear my prayer for treble soloist and choir. The text is derived from Psalm 55. In the beautiful second section, O for the wings of a dove, there is some especially appropriate background noise from the seagulls in Truro, which are a feature of summer evenings!
The finely-wrought polyphonic writing of Jonathan Battishill’s anthem, O Lord, look down from heaven is very reminiscent of the Elizabethan period and elevates the work to a far higher level than most other 18th century Cathedral music. Battishill (1738-1801) almost certainly wrote the work with the huge acoustic of St Paul’s cathedral (where he had been a chorister) in mind, and its dramatic use of silence is equally effective in Truro’s smaller but nevertheless resonant acoustic. The seven-part final section contains some superb writing and handling of dissonance.
Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652) composed numerous masses and motets but his fame lies with the Miserere, a setting of Psalm 51 in for five-part and four-part choirs alternating with plainsong. It is the four-part sections, traditionally sung by soloists and including embellished writing up to top C for the first treble which have given the work its legendary status. There is disagreement amongst musicologists about these high passages’ authenticity: they are undoubtedly hauntingly beautiful when heard in liturgical context.
As a chorister at Christ Church, Oxford, William Walton (1902-1983) showed precocious early promise as a composer and penned the deeply-expressive and immaculately-crafted A Litany at the age of only fifteen. It is remarkable to think that as a schoolboy, Walton devised the (then) daring harmonic progressions from scratch.
The Spanish composer, Alonso Lobo (c.1555-1617) was maestro di capilla at Toledo Cathedral and subsequently at Seville Cathedral, and although he is far less well-known today than his contemporary Tomas Luis da Victoria, it is known that Victoria held him in high esteem. His mastery of polyphonic technique is seen with spectacular effect in his six-part Versa est in luctum and he clothes the words of lament in the most beautifully crafted lines.
Michael Wise (c.1647-1687) was Organist of Salisbury Cathedral and latterly of St Paul’s Cathedral as well. He led a colourful life, and in the Episcopal visitation at Salisbury in 1683, accusations of negligence, profanity, drunkenness Òand other excesses in his life and conversationÓ were made of him. The ways of Sion is scored for solo treble and bass voices with two short choruses and is his masterpiece. His expressive writing and acute sense of pathos is evident throughout, particularly in the treble recitative, Is it nothing to you. In this recording, the accompaniment is played on the cathedral’s Tickell chamber organ.
With his setting of Panis Angelicus, César Franck (1822-1890) eschews his characteristically chromatic harmonic language for a much more straightforward, melodic style which would have been popular with parishioners, no doubt, in late nineteenth century St Clotilde in Paris, where he was organist. Originally scored for tenor solo with organ, harp, Ôcello and doublebass, it is heard here sung by the choristers with organ accompaniment. The text picks up the eucharistic themes of Maundy Thursday.
Gerald Finzi (1901-1956) developed a harmonic language very much in the English tradition inherited from his teacher, Edward Bairstow, and from Parry, Vaughan Williams and Elgar. Lo, the full, final sacrifice was commissioned by the Rev Walter Hussey for the choir of St Matthew’s Church, Northampton in 1946 and marked the fifty-third anniversary of the consecration of St Matthew’s. Its text, whilst referring to the penitential ideas of sacrifice, is really a triumphant Easter meditation on the Blessed Sacrament and as such ends this recording on an optimistic note of resurrection.
Truro Cathedral Choir
The choir of Truro Cathedral consists of eighteen boy choristers and twelve gentlemen. At the present time, there are seven lay vicars and five choral scholars; the lay vicars reside locally and have employment in or around Truro in addition to their duties at the cathedral, and the choral scholars spend a year in Truro either before or after higher education. The choristers are all educated at Polwhele House School, to which they receive generous scholarships from the cathedral.
The choir’s primary function is to provide music which is carefully integrated with the magnificent ceremonial and liturgical excellence which characterises the cathedral’s worship. Each week there are six choral services, usually with the full choir, comprising Sung Mass and Evensong each Sunday and either Evensong or Solemn Mass on four weekdays. The music for these services is chosen to complement the liturgical themes of each season or festival.
In addition, the choir presents a termly concert in the cathedral and regularly sings in other venues around the Duchy of Cornwall, carrying the mission of the cathedral out into the diocese. The choristers take part in a flourishing outreach project each term, going out to local schools with their music before hosting the school choirs for a concert of their own in the cathedral. The choir records and broadcasts regularly and undertakes a major international tour every two years or so. Plans for Summer 2004 include a tour to Austria and Switzerland and for 2005 to Canada.
For further details about the choir, and information about choristerships and choral scholarships, visit their website.
Robert Sharpe took up the appointment of Director of Music and Organist of Truro Cathedral in September 2002, having previously held the post of Assistant Organist at Lichfield Cathedral. Prior to this, he held organ scholarships at St Albans Abbey, working with Barry Rose, and at Exeter College, Oxford, where he was responsible for training the men and boys choir.
Robert Sharpe has performed as both soloist and accompanist on television and radio, and in many parts of Europe and the USA, working with Andrew Lumsden and the choir of Lichfield Cathedral and with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Bach Choir. His solo debut recording from Lichfield was Sounds Majestic.
Robert Sharpe studied the organ with Roger Bryan, the late Nicholas Danby and with David Sanger and performs frequently in concert. With the choir of Truro Cathedral, he directed a recording of Christmas music, When He is King which has received considerable critical acclaim. Future plans with the choir include a disc of the complete choral works of the French composer, Maurice Duruflé.
Robert Sharpe is also Musical Director of Three Spires Singers and Orchestra.
Christopher Gray was appointed Assistant Organist of Truro Cathedral in September 2000, having previously held organ scholarships at Pembroke College, Cambridge and at Guildford Cathedral. Born in Bangor, Northern Ireland, he was a boy chorister with the Gryphon Consort and subsequently Assistant Organist at St George’s Church, Belfast. During this period, he accompanied the choir on three recordings.
Whilst in Cambridge, Christopher Gray directed the choir of Pembroke College and undertook concerts and tours both in this country and in Switzerland, Finland, Estonia, Northern Ireland and Japan. He studied the organ with David Sanger and Nicolas Kynaston and subsequently with Margaret Phillips at the Royal College of Music where he was a prizewinner. At Truro, he has appeared many times with the cathedral choir on radio and television.
In January 2004, Christopher Gray was appointed to the new full-time post of Assistant Director of Music at Truro Cathedral. He is also conductor of the Cornwall County Junior Choir and of St Mary’s Singers, the cathedral’s voluntary choir.
Produced by Paul Spicer
Recorded and edited by Lance Andrews
Photograph by Rhoda Crickmay