Jesus Christ the Apple Tree Elizabeth Poston
O little town of Bethlehem Henry Walford Davies
Benedicamus Domino Peter Warlock
In the bleak mid-winter Harold Darke
I saw three ships traditional, arranged Philip Marshall
A New Year Carol Benjamin Britten
The Lamb John Tavener
Quem vidistis pastores Francis Poulenc
Away in a manger W J Kirkpatrick, arranged David Willcocks
Noël nouvelet traditional French, arranged Stephen Jackson
Silent night Franz Grüber, arranged Simon Morley
When Jesus our Lord Felix Mendelssohn
O magnum mysterium Francis Poulenc
Once in Royal David’s city melody H J Gauntlett, harmony A H Mann
Bethlehem Down Peter Warlock
Here is the little door Herbert Howells
Little Jesus, sweetly sleep Czech melody, arranged Andrew Nethsingha
Tomorrow shall be my dancing day John Gardner
Total playing time 68m 04s
When He Is King
When He is King
Philip Ledger made his arrangement of the traditional Sussex Carol melody for broadcast in the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge where he was Director of Music in the 1970s. The very first Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols actually took place in Truro Cathedral under the direction of Archbishop Benson and was later simplified for use in King’s College in 1918. It continues annually in Truro, recently expanding because of popular demand, to two services each year. Sir Philip’s arrangement combines a sparkling organ accompaniment with different combinations of voices culminating with a strong unison verse with descant.
The English composer, Elizabeth Poston has responded to the beautiful words of the American text, Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, in her haunting setting. The anonymous words were published in New Hampshire in 1784 and Poston’s setting frames verses for high voices (treble and alto) and for four parts with two verses sung by the trebles alone.
Henry Walford Davies was organist of the Temple Church and the first director of BBC radio choral broadcasts. A renowned trainer of boys’ voices, the extended setting of O little town of Bethlehem begins with a recitative for treble or tenor voice followed by two verses for boys’ voices only with organ. Walford Davies punctuates the text differently in verse two from the better-known hymn version of the carol and assigns verse three to unaccompanied full choir with a short codetta for the organ.
Peter Warlock spent the years of the first World War in Cornwall with fellow pacifist D H Lawrence. Benedicamus Domino dates from that period; the fifteenth century poem is set boisterously, suggesting brass writing. The later Bethlehem Down won a Daily Telegraph carol competition; it is a rich but delicate setting of the calm acceptance of Warlock’s friend, Bruce Blunt’s, poem.
In the bleak-mid winter has a firm place in almost every choir’s Christmas repertoire and Harold Darke’s 1911 setting of Christina Rossetti’s poem uses both treble and tenor solo voices alternating with unaccompanied full choir. The climax at “give my heart” shows real sensitivity to the theological ideas behind the text.
Philip Marshall was organist of Lincoln Cathedral from 1966 to 1986 and especially renowned for his compositions and organ improvisations. This witty setting of the traditional English carol, I saw three ships, has a jaunty organ accompaniment and sets the verses for alternating boys’ and men’s voices, including a barber-shop-style verse with solo counter-tenor and men’s voice accompaniment.
Benjamin Britten’s A New Year Carol is a setting of an anonymous text which Walter de le Mare included in his collection Tom Tiddler’s Ground. The piece is taken from Britten’s collection Friday Afternoons which was composed for his brother’s preparatory school in Prestatyn. Its text is particularly suitable liturgically for the festival of the Baptism of Christ on the Sunday following Epiphany.
William Blake’s poem The Lamb was set to music of ravishing simplicity by John Tavener as a commission for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College. Its beauty of effect has earned it an established place as one of the most frequently performed contemporary carols.
Francis Poulenc wrote four Christmas motets in his later period of composition. His music is deliberately provocative and delights in seeking out new textures and colours. He ignores the natural rhythm and accentuation of the Latin text and thereby achieves a completely new perspective on the familiar words and their meaning. In Quem vidistis something of the eagerness of the shepherds to share in the joy of the birth of Christ is portrayed, whilst O magnum mysterium conveys a hushed sense of awe at the mystery of the incarnation.
David Willcocks has harmonised W J Kirkpatrick’s melody to the anonymous words, Away in a manger in a simple, under-stated style which matches perfectly the text. The flowing harmony conveys a sense of the stillness into which the baby Jesus was born.
Noël nouvelet is a traditional French carol melody with a strongly modal feel, and is here heard in Stephen Jackson’s arrangement made for the choir of St Peter-ad-Vincula at Her Majesty’s Tower of London. The opening and closing verses for trebles surround some very colourful harmonisations of the tune which, together with the kaleidoscopic organ accompaniment, owe much to the twentieth century French school of organ writing.
As a gesture towards the importance of the Blessed Virgin Mary as mother of Jesus, the sixteenth-century composer Robert Parsons’ setting of Ave Maria is included in this collection. In the rich five-part writing, Parsons creates the effect of a litany by giving the highest part a simple repeated phrase, each entry being one degree higher in pitch. Only part of the familiar text is set (Parsons omits the reference to Jesus after “fruit of thy womb” and to the mother of God). There is a hidden honour to Mary, Queen of Scots and her son James, despite the fact that Parsons was employed by Elizabeth I at the Chapel Royal.
Franz Grüber’s Stille Nacht is perhaps the most famous of all Christmas songs and is strongly evocative of an Austrian country Christmas in the early nineteenth century. Simon Morley was Assistant Organist at Truro Cathedral from 1991-2000 and made this luscious arrangement for the choir during that period.
The opening three movements of Felix Mendelssohn’s unfinished oratorio Christus have become firm favourites in the cathedral repertoire and form a substantial anthem for the Epiphany season. After the opening recitative, three solo male voices represent the magi asking where they can find the new-born Jesus. The chorus There shall a star opens quietly but then builds to strongly chordal writing for the words “and dash in pieces princes and nations”. In the closing section, Mendelssohn incorporates the chorale tune “How brightly shines the morning star”.
Arthur Mann’s elegant harmonisation of Once in Royal David’s city is sung all over the world at Christmas each year. In this performance, the tune is sung by a treble soloist in verse one, with the full choir singing unaccompanied in verse two; this is how it is heard each year at the beginning of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in Truro and elsewhere. David Willcocks’ magnificent organ arrangement and descant for the last verse has also become a classic part of the Christmas repertoire of choirs.
Here is the little door is a poem by Frances Chesterton which formed one of four celebrated carol-anthems composed by Herbert Howells. The harmonic language and texture superbly convey the meaning of the words of this Epiphany-tide carol and, in particular, the closing bars are one of Howells’ most moving passages of writing.
Andrew Nethsingha was Master of the Choristers and Organist of Truro Cathedral from 1994 to 2002, during which period the cathedral choir undertook numerous tours, broadcasts and recordings to great acclaim. His suave harmonisation of the traditional Czech carol Rocking particularly suits the warm acoustic of the Cathedral.
John Gardner’s rhythmically compelling setting of the traditional text Tomorrow shall be dancing day has an irresistible lilt. Gardner has used jazz techniques in a number of his compositions and here the syncopated energy ensures that the work remains a great favourite each Christmas. The concluding organ chords lead into the closing words with the magnificent splendour of the Truro Father Willis organ’s tutti.
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 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 every other year undertakes a major international tour.
For further details visit the Truro Cathedral 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 Alban’s 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, working with Andrew Lumsden and the choir of Lichfield Cathedral and with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Bach Choir. This is his seventh CD recording. His solo debut recording, Sounds Majestic, has received much acclaim from the critics in Gramophone and other musical journals. Robert Sharpe studied the organ with Roger Bryan, the late Nicholas Danby and with David Sanger and performs frequently in concert. Future plans include a disc of music for Lent and Passiontide with the choir of Truro Cathedral.
Robert Sharpe is also Musical Director of Three Spires Singers and Orchestra in Truro.
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. 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 prize winner. At Truro, as well as accompanying the choir for daily services and concerts, he has also broadcast with them on radio and television.
Christopher Gray is also conductor of the Cornwall County Junior Choir and of St Mary’s Singers, the cathedral’s voluntary choir.
Produced by John Hosking and Christopher Gray
Recorded and edited by Lance Andrews
Photograph by Lance Andrews