Choral and organ music for Palm Sunday, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost and Trinity, by Howells, Weelkes, Haydn, Andrew Careter, Simon Lindley, S.S. Wesley, Bairstow, Finzi, Givvons, Tallis, Elgar, Bach and Stainer
Choir of Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, conducted by Dr Richard Marlow and Michael Fulcher, with Richard Apperley, Michael Fulcher and Thomas Gaynor (organ)
Wellington Cathedral of St.Paul
Saturday, 22 May
Fourteen different items made up this programme, which ran rather longer than the hour-and-a-quarter advertised. It showed the skill of the choir in singing works spanning four-and-a-half centuries. Nearly all the choir members stood very still, and did not indulge in distracting movement; thus, the audience can concentrate on the music.
Most of the items were conducted by visiting Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, Dr Richard Marlow, who is retired from the position of Director of Music at that College.
On the whole the balance and blend of the choir was good, though occasionally the sopranos were too prominent. There was variety in the programme, and some variety from the voices also. Soloists in some of the pieces were not named, but were mainly well sung. The problem from time to time of the slow resonance of the building was probably exacerbated by the fact that it was well under half-full.
The first item, a Te Deum of Herbert Howells was perhaps one of the few where the organ, in the loud sections, rather overcame the choir. In the quieter middle section, the balance was better. Otherwise, the playing for the choir by Richard Apperley and Thomas Gaynor was exemplary (the latter, who recently won the inaugural Maxwell Fernie Centenary Award, played for three items only. The piece came to a thrilling climax.
The next piece, ‘Jubilate Deo’ by Thomas Weelkes, seemed a bit mechanical – was it insufficiently rehearsed? It was not possible to pick out more than a few words. This was not a problem through most of the remainder of the performance. The solo parts here were fine. It was sung by a smaller group, the Cathedral Consort. The membership of this group was not fixed; when they sang unaccompanied later in the programme, there was some variation in the personnel.
After an attractive organ introduction, Benedictus by Haydn featured a young soloist who improved as she went along. ‘Joy is come’ by modern composer Andrew Carter was quite lovely.
Another contemporary composer, Simon Lindley, wrote the beautiful ‘Now the green blade riseth’, which featured good phrasing and a very fine accompaniment. The words came over much better than in some of the previous pieces.
Samuel Wesley, born 200 years ago this year, wrote ‘Blessed be the God and Father’; its superb pianissimo opening was most effective, the words were clear, the soloist very fine, and the ending lively.
Michael Fulcher played the relatively well-known Choral Song and Fugue by S.S. Wesley very effectively.
Edward Bairstow and Gerald Finzi were roughly contemporaries in the first half of the twentieth century, and both wrote well for choirs. The former’s ‘Let all mortal flesh’ was quite marvellous, while in the latter’s ‘God is gone up’ Marlow obtained the jubilant sound well. The organ part was interesting, and no mere accompaniment.
Orlando Gibbons’s ‘O clap your hands’ is quite complex, multi-part unaccompanied music, and was sung well by the Consort. At the end the singers did a beautiful decrescendo-crescendo. This was fine music-making indeed.
Thomas Tallis contributed the only Latin text item: ‘Loquebantur variis linguis’. Here again, the unaccompanied Consort gave us a gorgeous weaving of parts. This piece made the best use of the resonance of the cathedral.
I did not feel that Elgar’s ‘The Spirit of the Lord’ was great music, but it did have n exciting organ part.
Bach was represented by his wonderful Fugue in E flat (‘St Anne’) – grand three-part fugue. A little more phrasing would have made for greater clarity; the resonance of the building jumbles the sounds, and the last section particularly was rather fast for this space.
The final work, ‘I saw the Lord’ by John Stainer is a very four-square piece, but had some interesting chromatic harmonies.
The tone of the choir improved as the concert went on; by the end it was burnished, bright and beautiful. Marlow obtained some great sounds from the singers, and the organists were a major part of the success of the concert.