The centenary of the outbreak of World War I has brought extra focus and poignancy to the annual Remembrance commemorations in 2014. Here, the Choir of Winchester Cathedral offers a well-chosen programme of suitable music.
They open with the wonderful anthem Faire is the heaven
by Sir William Harris and immediately it’s apparent that the choir is on its collective mettle. The sound is well blended and the treble/soprano line is strong and confident. The choir has both boy and girl choristers and it’s not clear which set of singers – or even, perhaps, a mix of the two – is involved in each piece. In any event the top line of the choir always balances well against the lower parts. The collective sound is very pleasing and the choir gives a very fine performance of this anthem with the rapt opening and close beautifully judged and good attack and energy in the livelier middle section. It’s always interested me that Harris’s two most celebrated anthems, this one and Bring us, O Lord
, which comes later in this programme, are both in the same rich but remote key of D flat major.
The extract from War Requiem is performed using the organ reduction by Philip Brunelle. The tenor soloist sounds fractionally unsteady on his first few notes but thereafter sings well. John Ireland’s deservedly popular anthem is given a very convincing performance. In complete contrast is the wonderfully eloquent motet by Howells; it gets a fine, expressive reading.
We hear two settings of the celebrated lines from Laurence Binyon’s poem, ‘For the Fallen’. Douglas Guest’s piece is tranquil and lovely and it’s very well sung by the choir. Mark Blatchly’s setting is for treble voices and, as it says in the notes, the music looks back to Elgar – successfully so, in my view. It’s a very good piece, confidently sung here, and the tune for the words “They shall grow not old” is truly memorable. Blatchly works in references to The Last Post in a moving way.
Moving too is the setting of the Nunc dimittis by Pawel Lukaszewski. This very fine, prayerful piece impressed me when I first heard it sung by the choir for whom it was written, the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge and Stephen Layton (review
). This excellent performance impresses me too, as does the account of Vaughan Williams’s Lord, thou hast been our refuge
in which the important semi-chorus part is particularly effectively sung.
Near the end of the programme we return to Harris and his glorious anthem, Bring us, O Lord
. I’m never sure whether this or Faire is the heaven
is technically the more accomplished composition, if such a distinction is possible – both are expertly crafted - but Bring us, O Lord
is the one that I find the most moving, probably because John Donne’s words are so marvellous. I wasn’t disappointed in this excellent performance.
Had I been planning this programme I think I would have left it there, closing with the rapt ending of Bring us, O Lord.
However, Andrew Lumsden adds a further, substantial piece in the shape of At the round earth’s imagined corners
by Philip Moore. This was written for the 2011 Southern Cathedrals Festival – an annual festival that unites the cathedral choirs of Chichester, Salisbury and Winchester. It was first performed by the combined choirs and Fine Arts Brass under Andrew Lumsden’s direction in Winchester Cathedral. The score requires tenor solo, SATB choir, an ensemble of brass and percussion and organ. As its title implies part of the text that Moore sets is by John Donne and there are also words from the New Testament. In many ways it’s an impressive piece and the writing for brass is often spectacular – at the start, taking a cue from Donne’s poem, we hear four trumpets stationed in different parts of the cathedral. However, I can’t help feeling it's a bit too long. It takes the programme off in a different direction, away from the more meditative tone of what has gone before and into a proclamation of the resurrection of the dead. That’s fine but the only concern, I have is to wonder if the scale of the piece – not just its length but also its proclamatory tone – sits ideally in this programme. However, it’s good to hear it and good that it’s achieved an exciting first recording.
This is a very well-conceived programme and Winchester Cathedral Choir executes it splendidly, demonstrating assurance and feeling for the music. Gary Cole has engineered the recording expertly and the notes by John Lees are both thoughtful and informative.
Sir William HARRIS (1883–1973)
Faire is the heaven [5:20]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913–1976)
Agnus Dei (from War Requiem,
Op. 66) [4:03]
Douglas GUEST (1916–1996)
For the fallen [1:28]
Gustav HOLST (1874–1934)
Turn back O man [4:44]
John IRELAND (1879–1962)
Greater love hath no man [6:19]
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857–1934), arr. Sir William Harris
‘Nimrod’, from Variations on an Original Theme (‘Enigma’), Op. 36 [3:52]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892–1983)
Take him, earth, for cherishing [8:40]
Mark BLATCHLY (b.1960)
For the fallen [5:18]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872–1958)
Lord, thou hast been our refuge [8:44]
Paweł ŁUKASZEWSKI (b.1968)
Nunc dimittis [5:12]
Sir William HARRIS
Bring us, O Lord [3:49]
Philip MOORE (b.1943)
At the round earth’s imagined corners [12:46]