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Angel Cakes . . . or Cake Eating Angels? Choral Evensong

by on 12 March 2017

Choral Evensong

by St. Paul’s Cathedral Choristers

St. Mary’s Church, Hampton, Sunday 12th March 2017.

Review by William Ormerod
Tea and cakes would be served afterwards – if we were lucky! We were thus warned, for the boy choristers of St. Paul’s Cthederal are “very keen on cake”.

As part of a termly peregrination by St. Paul’s round the eight deaneries of the Diocese of London, the packed church at St. Mary’s Hampton was treated to a choral evensong by the visiting choir, the boy trebles of the Cathedral, fifteen strong, with accompanying clergy. The choir was conducted by their Director of Music, Andrew Carwood, and accompanied on the famous J.C. Bishop organ, which was a gift to the church by King William IV. The organ was played by the St. Paul’s Organ Scholar, Joseph Beech.

St Paul'sChoir

Photograph courtesy of St. Paul’s Cathederal

The format of the service, following the pattern of the Book of Common Prayer, and with plainsong-style versicles and responses. The main difference was that, following Cathedral practice, the Psalm (No. 135, verses 1-7), Canticles (Magnificat and Nunc dimittis for trebles in C minor by Sir George Dyson), and Prayers were sung by the choir alone, as of course was the anthem, Long since in Egypt’s plenteous land by Parry. A minor difference in the Cathedral-style singing was the slightly incongruous elongation of certain syllables (especially in the aforementioned Versicles and Responses).

The psalm (‘O praise the Lord…’) was sung with restrained gusto by the choir, mostly antiphonally, to a chant by Sir George Job Elvey, Organist for 47 years of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. He had a reputation as a kind and gentle choirmaster – he never boxed the boys’ ears, except when they sang out of tune at Evensong! There was some subtle accompanying word-painting from the organist, notably a stormy crescendo of lightning, wind and rain at the end. Choir and organ imbued Dyson’s melodious and energetic Magnificat with a jauntiness and innocence that seemed to me to represent Mary’s dignified acceptance in her song while inwardly jumping for joy; while the more relaxed, reflective Nunc brought out the quiet, joyful resignation of Simeon’s song. Dyson was the father of Freeman Dyson FRS, the quantum physicist, doubtless familiar [among other Dysons] to those at NPL, Bushy Park.

In his Address, the Dean, David Ison, after thanking St. Mary’s for the hospitality (and cake!) on behalf of the choristers, whom we were told, had been transformed by Mr. Carwood “from little urchins into angels”.

The Anthem, which preceded the sermon, was familiar as being the original form of Parry’s lyrical hymn tune Repton (an arrangement for the hymn Dear Lord and Father of mankind) – probably his second most famous tune (after Jerusalem). This was a ‘ballad’ from Act I, Scene 2 of Parry’s oratorio Judith (1888) as sung by Meshullemeth, wife of King Manasseh of Israel (Contralto), which morphs in verse 5 into a trio with two of their sons (Treble) waiting to be sacrificed to the idol Moloch. The St. Paul’s choir duly sang verses 1-4 in unison (v. 3 a variation of the tune), and v.5, a different tune, in three-part harmony. The words, apparently by Parry himself, reflect the vivid Israelitish story, as he termed it, already met in the first lesson. Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (the third knight of the realm among this evening’s illustrious composers!) incidentally took composition lessons from Sir George Elvey while at school at Eton, where he also earned the Oxford B.Mus. degree at the age of 18 or 19. He was a protégé of the own organist (back in 1832), S.S. Wesley, and himself supported Sir George Dyson. Though a non-religious ‘free-thinker’, he was buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

We were blessed at the end by the Area Dean, who encouraged us, joyfully with the grace of God, to take up the cross and follow Him. Choir and clergy trooped out to a suitably Lenten closing Organ Voluntary – Saraband (in modo elegiaco) by Herbert Howells, with some deep and dark elegiac tones; and copious supplies of tea, scones and cakes survived the choristers and put the icing on the service.

William Ormerod
March 2017

From → Music, Reviews

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