We have a large selection of CDs, DVDs, books and watercolours for sale. The proceeds from the sales of these items goes towards the work of DCCA in supporting music at Durham Cathedral. Please click on a thumbnail image for further details including audio samples of the CDs and DVDs.
To buy any of the items below please visit our online store.
Francesca Massey was the Assistant Director of Music at Durham Cathedral for a number of year and last summer moved to take up the position of Organist and Master of ther Choristers at Rochester Cathedral. This was her second solo organ CD with Priory and a fitting tribute to her tenure at Durham. She is a phenomenal player and is regarded as probably the foremost female organist in the UK. Although the Duruflé organ works have been recorded many times these are the first time for them to appear in the Priory catalogue and a more thrilling and thoroughly musical performance will be hard to find. The organ at Durham is ideal in the hands of Massey.
Fugue sur le thème du Carillon des Heures de la Cathèdrale de Soissons Op.12
Prélude sur l'Introit de l'Epiphany Op.13
Méditation Op. post
Prélude, Adagio et Choral Varié sur le Veni Creator Op.4: Prélude
Prélude, Adagio et Choral Varié sur le Veni Creator Op.4: Adagio
Prélude, Adagio et Choral Varié sur le Veni Creator Op.4: Choral Varié
Prélude et Fugue sur le nom d'Alain Op.7: Prélude
Prélude et Fugue sur le nom d'Alain Op.7: Fugue
'Chant donné' en Hommage à Jean Gallon
Suite Op. 5 : Prélude
Suite Op. 5: Sicilienne
Suite Op. 5: Toccata
Please order on our online store, or by sending a cheque for £10.00 + £2 P&P to:
DCCA, The Cathedral Office, Durham, DH1 3EH
We are proud to announce the publication of a new book written by two of the Cathedral’s old choristers, who were choristers during WW2 - George Hetherington and Alan Oyston. It costs £5.00 and all proceeds will go to DCCA to support the Cathedral’s music.
Please order by sending a cheque for £5.00 + £1 P&P to:
DCCA, The Cathedral Office, Durham, DH1 3EH
James Lancelot, organ
This was James Lancelot’s farewell CD from Durham Cathedral where he was Master of the Music for over 30 years, making a large number of highly acclaimed recordings for Priory. “Bach from Durham” will be the first of a short series of CDs to showcase the versatility of his music on cathedral organs within the UK. This idea has never been presented before. A mixed collection of works features in Lancelot’s recital and shows off this cathedral organ in a splendid light.
Francesca Massey, organ
This is the first commercial recording of this little known organ. In choosing repertoire, the objective was to showcase the diversity of the instrument’s resources. The original Snetzler stops feature largely in the 18th century repertoire whilst the remainder highlights the more recent additions to the specification, and the versatility of the organ as a whole. The hymn tune bearing the name Kings Lynn is featured, as is music by two of the Minster’s former organists – John Jordan and Charles Burney. Francesca Massey is the assistant organist at Durham cathedral and this is her second CD for Priory.
"....the Kings Lynn organ has much to recommend it and the 18 page booklet notes are a model of their kind and an illuminating read alongside her repertoire notes. Vivid recorded sound too."
Michael Quinn - Choir and Organ (Four stars)
"Massey's playing of the early repertoire is particularly engaging however she is equally at home in the 20th century literature. This instrument is well worth hearing and this disc admirably reflects its quality and versatility."
Martin Clarke - (Five stars) - Editors Choice - Organist Review.
James Lancelot, organ
We shall never know why Bach planned the Orgelbüchlein to contain 164 chorale preludes, but composed only 45. Does the collection we have represent simply all he had time to compose; or did Bach, realising that the remaining 119 chorales would never see the light of day, nevertheless seek to give logic and coherence to what remained? I incline to the latter theory; the collection takes us chronologically through the Church’s year from Advent to Pentecost, with the remaining twelve chorales being non-seasonal but relating to particular needs or occasions - before the sermon, for the dying, and so on. And it is pure coincidence that what is surely the greatest setting occupies centre place in the collection? Twenty-two chorales precede and twenty-to more follow the towering masterpiece that is O Mensch, bewein.
In the title-page of the collection Bach lists his aims: to instruct a beginner at the organ how to work out a chorale in many different , and to achieve perfection in playing the pedals, whose use in these chorales is wholly obligatory. Bach being the composer he was, what could have been dry-as-dust material is in fact music so varied and beautiful that it has become the organist’s Bible. Others have written eloquently and at length of the construction, symbolism and dating of the chorales; suffice it to say that Bach’s invention seems endless, to the extent that it is hard to think of any chorale that reminds one of any other, such is the variety Bach achieves in what are for the most part in one sense no more than decorated harmonised play-throughs of the chorale melody ( to reduce matters rather unkindly to their bare essentials).
The majority of the preludes are composed in four-part texture - one part in the pedals and three in the manuals. All use the pedals - three of them in the tenor, otherwise in the bass. All employ distinctive and unique rhythmic or melodic figuration in the accompanying parts - sometimes shared with the pedals, sometimes with separate pedal ostinati - sometimes derived from the chorale melody, often independent. Endings are often characterised, and slowed down, by thickening of the texture, by false relations between the parts, or by chromaticisms. With the exception of In dir ist Freude, the chorale melodies are presented continuously with no breaks (or almost no breaks) between the phrases.
I suggested the the Orgelbüchlein had become as it were the organist’s Bible. No organist should be ignorant of the collection; every organist should master some at least of these chorales, which have adorned the liturgy of churches throughout and far beyond Lutheran communities. It was John Dykes Bower’s playing of these works in St Paul’s Cathedral that introduced them to me in my Chorister days; and on being elected to the Organ Scholarship at King’s College, Cambridge my first step was to learn all those preludes that were not already in my repertoire. These pieces have been lifelong companions, and in recording them forty-five years later I pass a milestone on what is a personal pilgrimage, an (I hope) go some way towards repaying the rewards they continue to give me.
No organ with Romantic voicing, electric blowing, elctro-pneumatic action and (not least) a scale tuned in twelve equal semitones is going to make the sort of sound that Bach would have recognised in his lifetime. So why record this music in Durham Cathedral with its Willis/Harrison instrument, built in 1877 and subsequently rebuilt three times? Fisrtly, because Bach’s music transcends its medium; it is less insolubly tied to specific tone-colours than (for instance) French Classical organ music. But second, perhaps, because the organ at Durham possesses sufficient variety and vitality to bring each piece convincingly to life. I have not repeated any registration; every plenum is different. Wether or not my confidence is justified you, the listener, must decide.
Francesca Massey, organ
The pieces featured on this recording comprise twentieth-century works from Britain, France and Scandinavia, which show immense variety in terms of their musical language, structure and use of the organ. There are common threads linking a number of the works: the use or creation of hymn tunes, folk melodies or chorales, and the inspiration taken from their texts or country of origin. Another theme is the concept of earthly struggle, giving praise to God, and the striving for ultimate redemption in heaven.
I am immensely grateful to Durham Cathedral Choir Association and Priory Records for their instigation and production of this recording-project. I am equally indebted to my colleagues and former teachers, Francis Pott, and to my family, for their support, guidance, and help in preparing both music and programme notes.
York Bowen was a highly-successful and well-respected musician during his lifetime, producing a vast catalogue of compositions, most of which sadly remained unpublished or underperformed following his death. One explanation for this can be attributed to the fact that his compositional style remained firmly rooted in Romanticism, which had largely become unfashionable by the 1960s. Dubbed the ‘English Rachmaninov’, his compositions are laden with luscious chromatic harmonies and rich textures, encompassing expansive sweeps of phrasing. A much-acclaimed concert pianist, most of his best-known works are for orchestra or piano, including four piano concerti, which he himself premiered as soloist, appearing at the BBC Proms under Sir Henry J. Wood. Pianistic textures are much in evidence in his majestic Fantasia for organ, dedicated to the eminent organist Arnold Richardson. Framed by a march-like theme, the work is immediately arresting and impassioned, yet there are also moments of great delicacy and tenderness, allowing for full and colourful use of the organ’s resources.
Diptyque is one of Olivier Messiaen’s earliest organ works, composed in 1930 during his final year of studies with Marcel Dupré and Paul Dukas (to whom the works is dedicated). The work’s subtitle (essay on earthly life and blessed eternity) is portrayed through two vastly-contrasting sections, in which not only do we witness the early development of Messiaen as a composer, but also the heartfelt expression of his own profound Christian faith. The first part of the work is largely influenced by the style of Dupré; highly-chromatic yet diatonic, and densely-textured with a great sense of rhythmic drive and crispness of articulation. The resulting complexity of the music signifies the unrelenting pace and futility of the struggle of our earthly existence. The music reaches a height of anguish in a dense passage set in canon, after which the tension rapidly dissipates, making way for the work’s exceedingly calm second section. Here we see the early manifestation of Messiaen’s innovations in the treatment of harmony, rhythm and tempo, which were to characterize his unique style. The timelessness of eternity is portrayed by an extraordinarily slow, almost static, harmonic rhythm, whilst an exquisite, transcendental melody slowly climbs to the very top of the organ’s compass, representing tha ascent of man towards God. Ten years after composing the Diptyque, Messiaen transcribed its latter section for violin and piano under the title Louange à l’immortalité de Jésus, which became the final movement of the poignant Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the end of time), written and first performed during his imprisonment in a German prisoner-of-war camp.
Oskar Lindberg was a prominent Swedish composer, organist and teacher. An avid collector of folk melodies, he was also editor of the Church of Sweden’s Hymnbook, to which he contributed a number of new hymn tunes. His music largely encompasses a Romantic idiom, with overtones of Rachmaninov and Sibelius, as well as the French Impressionists. Above all, however , his music is essentially Nationalistic, drawing on the folk melodies of his beloved Sweden, and the beautiful landscapes of Dalarna and Lakeland, where he grew up, and where he often composed during summer months. Dedicated to his compatriot, the organist Albert Lindström, who died in 1935, the four-movement Sonata in G minor begins with a grand Funeral March, which hints at the echoes of a passing marching band. A delicate, almost wraithlike Adagio, and an equally mysterious Sarabande follow. The gloom is lifted in a joyous Finale whose main theme is imbued with infectious dotted rhythms. The second thematic subject is more hymn-like: subdued at its first appearance, it returns in a triumphant and symphonic rendition which brings the Sonata to a resplendent conclusion.
Marcel Dupré enjoyed a varied and glittering career as a teacher (for thirty years as Professor of Organ and later Director at the Paris Conservatoire), a virtuoso organist (giving recitals worldwide and succeeding Charles-Marie Widor as organist at the Parisian church of Saint-Sulpice), and as a highly-regarded composer. In 1914 he was awarded the prestigious Premier Grand Prix de Rome; however, the outbreak of war meant he was unable to take up the prize of a period of residence at the French Institute in Rome, the Villa Medici. Among the compositions dating from that time are the Three Preludes and Fugues, which include the melancholic Prelude and Fugue in F minor, dedicated to the memory of Augustin Barié; a former organist at Saint-Germain des Prés, who died young in 1915. The Prelude sets a pensive melody against a persistent pendulum, reminiscent of the gentle pitter-patter of raindrops. The introspective Fugue (never extending beyond 8-foot timbres) is derived from the same upwards, yearning melody; the enduring presence of which can be heard as a continual striving for release. Whereas most fugues gather momentum towards their ultimate goal, Dupré chooses a more elusive path. Despite fleeting rays of sunshine, the piece has a rather tragic ending, falling away as if emotionally spent.
William Mathias was the foremost Welsh composer of the twentieth century. A pupil of Lennox Berkeley at the Royal Academy of Music where he later became a Fellow, he was Head of Music at the University of Wales, Bangor, and founder of the North Wales International Music Festival. He composed his Variations on a Hymn Tune (based on the traditional Welsh tune Braint) in 1962, as a commission for BBC Wales; receiving its first performance in Llandaff Cathedral by Robert Joyce. One of his most substantial organ works, it begins with a regal introduction, before the theme is presented modestly by two flutes in canon. Six extremely-varied and characterful variations follow, exploring the modality and lyrical beauty of the tune, alongside the resoluteness and rhythmic vivacity of Mathias’s own distinctive musical language. A kaleidoscopic array of timbres is showcased, from the quietest string stops to the loudest of tubas, through a series of dances, marches, elegies and fanfares.
Composed in April 1934, Jehan Alain’s Choral Cistercien belongs to the plethora of ingenious and highly-original works produced during his short compositional career, ending in his tragic death in combat at the age of just 29. This serene and ethereal miniature was designed for the offering up of the host at Mass. The dovetailing of the two hands and lack of pedal sonority leads to a feeling of awe and mystery; one can almost visualize the cloud of incense as the delicate sonorities gently drift around. Only discovered posthumously, the Choral was written during one of his stays at the twelfth-century Cistercian Abbey at Valloires, in the Somme, a place where he sought peace and refuge from the busyness of daily life.
The sparkling Toccata on ‘Nu la oss takke Gud’ (‘Now thank we all our God’) is perhaps Egil Hovland’s best-known organ work. An extremely-popular and prolific composer of instrumental, choral and orchestral works, Hovland was organist and choir-master in Fredrikstad, Norway, from 1949 until his death in 2013, becoming a Knight of the Royal Order of Saint Olav in 1983 in recognition of his services to Norwegian music. His teachers included Aaron Copland and Luigi Dallapiccola; his own works displaying an assortment of compositional styles. Composed in 1973, the Toccata is saturated with exuberant bell-like cascades, with the chorale melody proclaimed successively in both the right hand and the pedals. A triumphant homophonic statement of the chorale allows for some colourful harmonic reworking, before a jubilant conclusion is reached in a blaze of rising cluster chords.
The contemporary English composer Francis Pott is recognised particularly for his sacred choral and organ works. His music has been performed and broadcast in over forty countries, widely published and released worldwide on CD. Winner of five national composition awards, in 1997 he received First Prize in the piano solo section of the S. S Prokofiev Composing Competition, Moscow. In 2006 and 2011 he was a nominated finalist in the BASCA/BBC Annual Composer Awards, London. His organ composition Empyrean was awarded both first and second prizes at the Lloyd’s Bank National Competition for new organ music associated with the English Church Music Festival of St. Michael’s, Cornhill, in May 1982. The composer writes:
‘The impulse to write this piece came from the experience of sitting beneath the famous Octagon in the crossing of Ely Cathedral during a performance of the Berlioz Requiem Mass. Architectural features of our great churches communicate as deliberate visual metaphors for things of the spirit; and so, on a summer evening, with shafts of light intersecting in its lantern, the Octagon provided a memorable image of Christian aspiration willing the soul upward, away from the earth and towards heaven. This is the idea behind the the resulting music.
In medieval times the word ‘Empyrean’ (from the Greek for fire, or the firmament) came to apply by extension to the supposed tunnel leading from this world up to the next, and it is in this sense that it offers an apposite title for the music. To reinforce its significance , two verses (first and last) from one of Isaac Watts’s greatest hymns are superscribed on the manuscript:-
“Give us the wings of faith, to rise
Within the veil, and see
The saints above, how great their joys,
How bright their glories be...
…Our glorious Leader claims our praise
For His own pattern given,
While the great cloud of witnesses
Show the same path to heaven.”
‘Empyrean’ is dominated throughout by a four-note pattern (first heard almost at once) whose kinship to Britten’s ‘Rejoice in the Lamb’ or Shostakovich’s musical monogram D-S-C-H is merely coincidental. Tonally the music rests principally upon the conflict between the triadic areas of A minor and F# major, especially in the latter stages. The intended impression is of music first heard coming from far above, gradually approached and finally encountered in full and blazing immediacy.’
Programme notes by Francesca Massey (tracks 1-10) and Francis Pott (track 11)
David Hill, director
Ian Shaw and Daniel Hyde, organ
The Bede Singers
This recording is a personal collection, selected by the composer, representing a number of favourite compositions, many of which have never before been recorded. The list of the music’s dedicatees is personal too; mentors and teachers, former musical colleagues and choirs, and family.
Those lucky enough to have sung under Richard Lloyd's direction grew up on a healthy diet of the best of centuries of church music stretching back to Tallis and Byrd, through Wesley, Wood and Stanford to Bairstow, Darke, and of course Herbert Howells. And how could these great influences not seep through into the music of a composer who has spent his life immersed in the music of the church?
Richard Lloyd’s music is a joy to perform and a delight to hear. It enhances the worshipper’s experience in being ‘accessible’ to all. His skill is to make what may appear on the page as tonally or rhythmically challenging sound effortless to the ear.
During the recording sessions with The Bede Singers - a group especially assembled for this project - spontaneous applause broke out at the end of some pieces, and a buzz of something special surrounded others. It is hard to single out individual items, but the ethereal All so still stands out as having being unjustly neglected in the 40+ years since its composition. Richard Lloyd has en eye for the fine texts which offer much to the creative mind, and here is one such gem. A Song of the Passion is another hidden treasure, unperformed since its composition in 1985. The music cascades downwards, like the tears in the text, supporting a beautiful beseeching dialogue between tenor and soprano solo.
Melody is always key, underpinned by rich harmony. Vocal scoring is assured - use of divisi, chord spacing and musical ‘grammar’ all add subtly to the polished final result. Humour is evident in the scores, with a penchant for more obscure musical directions (stinguendo, zelosamente, vezzoso, and the oft-used tempo comodo). The is always great warmth in the music; chords are coloured at every opportunity by added notes and suspensions. Joy and optimism are always present, even when the text may not suggest it. The composer's strong faith underpins everything.
“Music from the heart, to the heart” is how Ian Shaw memorably described the music of Richard Lloyd. This collection, spanning a truly impressive 60 years of compositions, perfectly illustrates that notion. The music is heartfelt in its conception and its creation. It touches the hearts of those who perform and those who listen.
The Palatinate Ensemble
The Palatinate Ensemble has, for many years, accompanied the Cathedral Choir at services as well as performing with the Choir and Consort in high profile events including the Sage Gateshead Concert in 2009. In addition, the Ensemble has performed a number of its own concerts; recordings of two of these, in aid of the DCCA, are available.
James Lancelot, director
Francesca Massey, David Ratnanayagam, organ
Durham Cathedral Choir
This recording presents the Office of Evensong as it might be offered in Durham Cathedral on Easter Day. Conrad Eden’s Ceremonial Responses for Easter (normally sung from the west end of the cathedral, and a much-loved feature of Easter at Durham) begin the Office after the opening voluntary; the Preces and Responses are those composed by Francis Jackson for the West Riding Cathedrals Festival, 1976.
The service follows its usual pattern, but for this recording both the Boy Choristers and the Girl Choristers are heard on their own with the gentlemen as well as together. The Introit and the setting of the Canticles were commissioned for the cathedral in 2013, a year which saw the visit of the Lindisfarne Gospels to this World Heritage site. The Anthem is that composed by Samuel Sebastian Wesley for Evensong on Easter Day 1834, an occasion on which only Trebles and a single Bass voice were available (which tells one all one needs to know about the state of cathedral music at the time). It must be said that Wesley made the most of the limited resources at his disposal, creating a work which has remained enduringly popular. The famous full-organ chord, for all its humorous aspect, is a wonderfully effective device, but also unrepeatable - as Donald Hunt has written in hios biography, “Wesley has the copyright for all time”.
Central to the liturgy, of course, is the psalm, in this case Psalm 105, a great recital of God’s acts and his faithfulness to his people - a psalm used when Jerusalem’s worship was founded under David (as related in 1 Chronicles. 16. 8ff), and reminiscent in both span and subject of the epic Psalm 78. Framing the service are hymns in the English tradition (albeit in both cases with German tunes) and voluntaries - Quitessentially English beforehand, and French afterwards, its genisis in Easter plainsong recalling Durham’s own monastic roots.
Herbert Howell’s Rhapsody No 1 was composed in August 1915 and dedicated to Dr Arnold Darke. This lyrical and heartfelt outpouring uses Howell’s favoured arch form; bookended by delicate and gently-undulating passages, whilst building to an impassioned central climax before finally coming to a tranquil and restful end in the comforting and enveloping warmth of D flat major.
Of the Introit, Michael Berkeley writes:
First the sun, then the shadow is one of three anthems directly related to Durham Cathedral and the present archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. When he was Dean of Liverpool, Justin commissioned my Advent Anthem (to words by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams) to celebrate the 80th birthday of his mother, Jane. It was subsequently sung by Durham Cathedral Choir at Justin’s Enthronement as Bishop of Durham. As a result of this particularly fine performance, Durham commissioned me to set another Williams poem, Emmaus, which begins “First the sun, then the shadow”. (Emmaus is the biblical village, the road to which is in itself a symbol of profound journeying).
Before I could finish the composition the meteoric, indeed sun-like, rise of the new Bishop in the Anglican Church’s hierarchy overtook me, when Justin was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in succession to Rowan Williams. Returning Justin’s compliment to Jane, his family asked me to write a short and simple anthem (Listen, listen O my child to words from the Rule of St Benedict) for the Enthronement in Canterbury Cathedral. This then preceded the first performance of the new Durham anthem.
My association with Durham Cathedral has been a particularly happy one with the choir, directed by James Lancelot, recording the Advent Anthem and then taking to their hearts First the sun, then the shadow.
I was very struck by the musical contrasts that Rowan Williams conjures up in his poem Emmaus and its sense of mystery and awe: “We cannot learn this rythm we are asked to walk”. In many ways it is not an easy poem to set but what I like as a composer is words that are elliptical, fleeting yet powerful. It’s why I have been drawn to Rilke in another recent work. First the sun, then the shadow is also about sound, the hearing of sound, and there are many references that need, I think, an equally elusive musical treatment to complement the literary language.
Fiannly, I see in the words both great lyricism and moments of terrific climax, to which I hope I have added by taking the liberty of repeating the opening line like a mantra, a sudden blast of brilliant fortissimo light before the concluding recession into a relative and piano darkness:
“First the sun,
first the sun,
first the sun,
then the shadow,
then the shadow.”
Of the canticles, John Casken writes: My Magnificat and Nunc dimittis was composed to mark the return of the Lindisfarne Gospels to the North-East of England. The book, dating from the 7th century, is one of the finest examples of Anglo-Saxon illuminated manuscripts, made by Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne who died in 721 in honour of St Cuthbert. This deeply spiritual act was foremost in my mind when I was writing the work, and for this reason the musical setting of the opening words ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord’ is intended to be devotional. I have marked the piece quietly joyful in an attempt also to reflect the mystery of Mary’s words at the visitation of her cousin Elizabeth. ‘For he that is mighty’ and ‘ He hath shewed strength with is arm’ invite a more vigorous response to the words, but throughout, the trebles’ opening musical phrase returns in some way to remind us of the importance of the first line of the Magnificat.
The Nunc dimittis is built on a rocking rhythm with irregular metres lending a gentle swaying character. At the climatic point, ‘Israel’, the organ has a brief interlude which serves as an introduction to the doxology ‘Glory be to the Father’. It reminds us that the organ plays an equally important part to that of the choir in this work, and it is the organ at the very end which brings back the Magnificat’s opening phrase.
Magnificat and Nunc dimittiswas commissioned by Durham Cathedral with support from Durham Cathedral Choir Association and Lindisfarne Gospels Durham through its Arts Council grant. It was first performed on 30 June 2013 in Durham Cathedral by Durham Cathedral Choir conducted by James Lancelot, with Francesca Massey, organ.
In 1930-31, Charles Tournemire recorded five improvisations on the magnificent Cavaillé-Coll organ of Saint-Clotilde, Paris. In 1958, his pupil Maurice Duruflé set about the painstaking and admirable task of transcribing these works from acetate disc, often working in the dead of night to minimise background noise, and slowing the recordings to half-speed the help decipher complex passages. In the tumultuous Choral-Improvisation on the Easter Sequence Victimae paschali laudes, Tournemire perfectly encapsulates the drama and magnificence of the rending open of the tomb and the ecstasy of the Paschal Victim’s triumph over death, whilst the exquisite heart of the work makes imaginative and poetic use of Sainte-Clotilde’s most expressive colours.
Programme notes © Michael Berkeley, John Casken, Francesca Massey, 2014
James Lancelot, organ
James Lancelot, director
Francesca Massey, organ
Durham Cathedral Choir
James MacMillan gets star billing on the booklet cover, although his Missa Dunelmi, his sole contribution to this CD, takes only a little over 18 minutes to perform. Never mind – it is a gorgeous work, and if it were the only music on this CD, I’d still be likely to pay full price for it. As one expects from this composer, Missa Dunelmi is of visionary intensity – very much of the present time, yet, in its ecstatic and almost relentlessly overlapping polyphony, an echo of the English renaissance tradition. This is its first recording. No surprise there, as it was commissioned by Durham Cathedral, and first performed there on February 27th, 2011, less than a year before this CD was recorded. Missa Dunelmi is set for eight-part choir a cappella and is in four movements. (MacMillan conflates the ‘Sanctus’ and ‘Benedictus’.) If the remainder of the programme on this Priory CD is too unlike it for you – perhaps your interest lies primarily in contemporary music – you might want to wait for a forthcoming disc by the Glasgow-based ensemble Cappella Nova. Recorded last November for Linn Records, that disc will contain the Missa Dunelmi (with the composer conducting) as well as other works by MacMillan and John Taverner. Having said that, I’m eager to compare the two recordings, as the Choir of Durham Cathedral is an ensemble of girls and men; the booklet lists 29 names. Cappella Nova is an award-winning group comprising adult women and men and is less than half the size of the Durham Cathedral Choir. Stay tuned!
There is something interesting buried in the booklet’s biography of the choir. It has been in existence for about six centuries, but in 2008 ‘the decision was taken to inaugurate a team of girl Choristers to sing alongside the boy Choristers’. This is its first recording. Having played this disc several times before opening up the booklet and sitting down to write this review, I was ready to enthuse about the steadiness and professionalism of the boys’ singing when I learned that the ‘boys’ actually were girls. Solo duties are taken by several of the girls as well, and here they also cover themselves in glory … or perhaps ‘gloria’. For example, in Guy de Lioncourt’s Quid retribuam Domino?, soloists Sarah Dover and Louise Gerth are assured beyond their years, sincere: a joy to hear. (de Lioncourt’s name might suggest the Middle Ages, but he died in 1961 and was associated with the Schola Cantorum in Paris.)
Another French connection in this programme (yes, I know he was born in Belgium!) is César Franck’s Panis angelicus, which has been used and abused countless times since the dawn of sound recording. Here, it is performed with lovely, devout simplicity and purged of the sentimentality which is often forced upon it. Hearing it in this way is like seeing a restored painting by Titian. This is immediately followed by one last work from across the Channel, Jeanne Demessieux’s Te Deum. The juxtaposition is appropriate, given Demessieux’s lifelong advocacy of Franck’s organ music. It is a grand and sturdy work, based on the eponymous plainchant, and characterized by typically French imagination and regard for colour and drama. Francesca Massey, who gives such reliable and sensitive support throughout this CD, deserves this opportunity to shine on her own and she makes the most of it. This is wonderful playing.
The balance of the programme is made up of English choral works from relatively modern times, with Charles Villiers Stanford, Charles Wood and Hubert Parry representing the old guard. Among the most interesting of these is Michael Berkeley’s Advent Anthem, another recent work. Berkeley’s setting truly captures the ‘terrible beauty’ of Rowan Williams’s poem, in which November’s death and decay are succeeded by images of the ‘bursting red December sun’ and Jesus’s arrival ‘like crying in the night, / like blood, like breaking, / as the earth writhes [here, the music writhes in turn] to toss him free’. The Durham Cathedral Choir never lets the composers down; this is choral singing I would be glad to encounter anywhere and it well merits repeated listening. If you require a sample before deciding, consider Wood’s Hail Gladdening Light, whose climax takes the girls into the stratosphere without a trace of strain or intimidation.
The sound on this disc is realistic. For best effect, set the volume to lifelike levels … but don’t blame me if the neighbours complain!
Raymond S. Tuttle
James Lancelot, organ
James Lancelot, director
Keith Wright, organ
Durham Cathedral Choir
Since earliest times human beings have sung. Or so it seems: until recently scientists have been more prepared to discuss the evolution and purpose of birdsong than of its human equivalent. Birdsong, it appeared, was more straightforward: an aural equivalent of highly-coloured feathers or courtship dance. Even Darwin, though, struggled to suggest that human song was developed solely for the purpose of showing off and attracting a mate; (the modern phenomena of karaoke and talent shows might have caused him to modify his view). Writing in The descent of Man he supposed that song and vocalisation were the precursors to speech. More recently, the American scientist and rock musician Daniel Levitin has observed that, “Music may be the activity that prepared our pre-human ancestors for speech communications and for the very cognitive, representational flexibility necessary to become humans.” I sing, therefore I am, perhaps. Or, as the Abba song puts it, “she says I began to sing long before I could talk.” If song predates speech, perhaps it retains the ability to link to something unsayable, something eternal.
Far from giving way to speech and shrinking, like a human tail, to some vestigial trace, song seems to have hung around for millions of years to enhance speech and give it fullest expression. There is an element of mystery about this: music is found in every culture and society, but it is non-adaptive: it serves no evolutionary purpose. Music, so often described as a ‘universal language’, is in fact neither universal nor a language, lacking in images, symbols or the ability to communicate exact meaning. For some scientists, including the very musical Steven Pinker in his book How the mind works, “music is auditory cheesecake, an exquisite confection crafted to tickle the sensitive spots of at least six of our mental faculties.” And many of the pieces in this programme can be enjoyed in such a way: sacred choral music has the ability to soothe and satisfy; its spiritual nature can often transcend its religious content. Some of the settings make their effect through the creation and manipulation of musical space and drama: Leighton’s Let all the world and O magnum mysterium create vivid sound-worlds that would be effective and enjoyable without their texts, as purely instrumental music; cornetts and sackbuts could take on the textures and rhythms of Gabrieli’s O magnum mysterium and produce a very satisfying instrumental canzona.
There are those who whish for more from their music, however, and there is much more to draw from the music in this collection. The poet Elizabeth Bishop declared, “I am in need of music that would flow Over my fretful, feeling fingertips, Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips, With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.” The focus on harmony and counterpoint of so many of the pieces on this disk throws the examples of melody into sharp relief: in Poulenc’s setting of O magnum mysterium, the treble melody floats above the incense-rich clouds of lower-voice harmony like hills rising above clouds on a spring morning; a similar effect, but with a less dark backing, is achieved in Richard Lloyd’s Magnificat from the St Hild Service. Bainton’s And I saw a new heaven, a favourite with generations of singers, succeeds partly because of the drama of its word-setting (take, for example, the rising phrase given to the basses on “and I heard a great voice out of heaven”, followed by the brass-like choral chords for “behold, the tabernacle of God is with men”) but equally because of the lyrical quality of its melodies, especially the unforgettable tenor phrase towards the end, at “God shall wipe away all tears”’ where the melody, at first setting the text syllable-by-syllable, returns twice to its initial pitch before finally breaking off heavenwards with a melisma on “away”.
Although words and music are undoubtedly effective each on its own terms, when well-matched they produce an effect that is more than the sum of their parts. The ‘meaning’ of such compound musical settings is complex and evades analysis. When the Overlords, those intellectual alien beings in Arthur C Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End, pay a visit to an earthly musical concert, they listen politely, commend the composer’s ‘great ingenuity’, but leave puzzled, because music does nothing fro them. The neurologist Oliver Sacks, in his book Musicophilia, imagines them returning to their spaceships, discussing the phenomenon they have just encountered, reasoning that it must have some unknown beneficial function for the humans. So music is in some way parallel to religion, necessary to many yet impossible fully to explain, a conundrum for the rational evolutionist. And it is in service of religion that music reaches some of its most profound expression. The pieces in this recital echo the eternal human and sacred themes of Advent: hope and expectation; wonder and celebration of new beginnings; and contemplation of our own end-time.
It was to bring together sacred texts and music that cathedral choirs such as Durham’s were first developed from rows of singing monks in the fifteenth century. The tradition has continued unbroken except for a few years during the Commonwealth, persisting against the odds because of its versatility and its dedication to the purpose for which it is so well suited, that of elevating the thoughts and prayers of individuals and communities,bringing them closer to a perception of something beyond the merely ordinary. The passionately atheistic evolutionist Richard Dawkins allows a grudging respect for this tradition when explaining why people chooses one religion over another (in A Devil’s Chaplain): “no doubt soaring cathedrals, stirring music, moving stories and parables, help a bit.” This recording captures some of the soaring acoustic of Durham Cathedral; few of the texts are narrative, but the combination of music and text creates sound parables.
All the pieces recorded here come from the modern daily repertoire of an English cathedral choir. As functional settings they use a conservative musical language and texts, biblical and devotional, which frequently predate the music by several centuries. Remarkably, none of the composers strives to be contemporary. Many of them, although writing at a (pre-antiquarian) time when there was little interest in earlier musical styles, have chosen to use established harmonic language from at least 50 years before the date of their compositions: Byrd (1605), Tallis (1575) and Handl (c1585) all adopt the contrapuntal style of the mid sixteenth century; Bairstow (1902), Bainton (1928) and Harris (1959) write in the mainstream European Romantic style of the late nineteenth century. Perhaps most remarkably of all Schütz (1648), who had studied with Giovanni Gabrieli from 1609 to 1612 and who had returned to Venice in 1628 to update himself with the style of Monteverdi and the early Italian baroque, falls back on a mixture of homophony and counterpoint more typical of Lassus a hundred years earlier. There are occasional elements of more modern music: Gabrieli and Leighton inject lively rhythms; Poulenc and Leighton employ some chromatic harmonies - as does Weelkes, with a lurch onto a sharper chord to paint the phrase “tune thy heart” - but all steer well clear of any sense of the avant-garde.
Composers may deliberately select a more archaic musical style partly as an evocation of the timeless: what’s up to date goes out of fashion quickly; a more classic style holds its currency. The timeless cycle of preparation, arrival, and waiting again that is the liturgical backdrop to Advent finds its musical equivalent here. The music is full of movements, often reflecting the excitement of anticipation, sometimes catching uncertainty, wonder and awe, couched within musical styles that are conservative yet not static. In this programme the pieces by the earlier composers Byrd, Tallis, Weelkes, Handl, Gabrieli and Schütz anticipate the birth of Christ; the most recent composers Lloyd and Poulenc celebrate the “now”, responding to the Incarnation with devotion and awe; and the works by the twentieth-century composers Bainton, Harris and Leighton look forward to the believer’s own death and Christ’s second coming. Like the tradition of cathedral music-making itself, Advent music looks both backward and forward, its devotional focus being an event anticipated in the Hebrew Bible and chronicled in the Gospels, and as that event is annually celebrated and renewed the music itself also timeless, binding text and sound together. It is at once both approachable and mystical. “The inexpressible depth of music,” as Schopenhauer put it, “so easy to understand and yet so in-explicable.”
Richard Lloyd: The St Hild Service - première recording
Dr Michael and Elizabeth Boyd, regular members of the congregation at Durham Cathedral, generously provided funds to commission the composition of the St Hild Service to mark their golden weeding anniversary in July 2009. Through the Durham Cathedral Choir Association, and following the advice of James Lancelot, Richard Lloyd, a former organist at Durham, was approached. This setting of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis is Richard Lloyd’s twelfth. Durham already has his Durham Service, written for the 1991 Northern Cathedrals Festival. In contrast to the rather grand Durham Service, the style of the St Hild Service was given at Evensong on 15 November 2009 in the presence of Michael and Elizabeth Boyd and Richard Lloyd. The performers were the men and boys of Durham Cathedral Choir, with Keith Wright (organist), conducted by James Lancelot.
© Andrew Fowler, 2010
Strong links have been made between Durham and Paris/Versailles as a result of our musicians touring there in 2008 and 2009. Benoît Roman D’Amat, a Parisian artist, has produced some lovely contemporary watercolour pictures of Durham which have been made into a delightful booklet Strolls around Historic Durham with historical notes.
It is on sale in the Cathedral Shop for £5, or by post from the Chapter Office, The College, Durham DH1 3EH (cheques to DCCA for £6.50 inc p&p).
Our recipe book contains recipes submitted by Chorister School pupils, past and present, their families, and by other members of the Cathedral community, with illustrations mostly by Chorister School pupils.
The book is on sale in the Cathedral shop for £3 or by post from the Chapter Office, The College, Durham DH1 3EH (cheques to DCCA for £4.50 inc p&p).
James Lancelot, director
Keith Wright, organ
Durham Cathedral Consort of Singers
This recording features highlights of the Consort’s nineteenth- and twentieth-century repertoire.Some of its is authentically sung by a mixed choir such as this; some of it was conceived for an all-male choir, such as Finzi’s Lo, the full, final sacrifice, a Walter Hussey commission for St Matthew’s, Northampton.
The programme opens and closes with extended and atypically Latin double-choir settings of Magnificat and Nunc dimittis, Stanford’s being composed in memory of Hubert Parry and bearing a sad dedication which is all too eloquent in view of the two composers’ long-standing disagreement. Wood’s Nunc dimittis is less ambitious in scope, but its block-choir eight-part writing gives it an atmosphere of grandeur and splendour (both Holst and Howells would exploit similar textures in setting the same words in the following decades).
For the rest, the music comes from continental Europe: Brahm’s magnificent setting of part of Psalm 51, scholarly yet passionate, and his serene (but canonically fascinating) Geistliches Lied; Rheinberger’s evocative evening hymn Abendlied, its text imbued with the resonance and emotion of the story of the road to Emmaus; Mendelsshon’s Hear my prayer (sung in its quaint metrical English version) needing neither introduction nor apology; Bruckner’s magisterial Ave Maria, intimate yet grand; and Grieg’s characteristic setting of the Marian hymn Ave maris stella, technically simple yet clearly and immediately permeated by the influence of Norwegian folksong. I would make special acknowledgement of Oxford University Press’ anthology European Sacred Music, edited by John Rutter, an invaluable publication which has served as both quarry and signpost.
© James Lancelot, 2006
David Hill, conductor
Ian Shaw, organ
Richard Lloyd was the Organist and Master of Choristers of Durham Cathedral from 1974 to 1985. During that time both David Hill and Ian Shaw were Sub-Organists with him at Durham . The Bede Singers is a group of former members of Durham Cathedral Choir, augmented by a number of soprano choral scholars at Cambridge University who got together in 2006 to produce this recording.
James Lancelot, organ
Messiaen's Organ Cycles: La Nativité du Seigneur and L’Ascension played on the Organ of Durham Cathedral by James Lancelot.
James Lancelot, organ
James Lancelot, organ
A portrait of the Harrison & Harrison organ of Emmanuel Church, Chestertown, Maryland, U.S.A.
A Op.12 & G Op. 81
James Lancelot, director
Keith Wright, organ
Durham Cathedral Choir
With his complete setting of the Morning and Evening Services and Offices for Holy Communion in B flat Op. 10 (1879), written for the choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, Stanford developed a new, vibrant and original concept of symphonic church music (see Priory PRCD437). Already accomplished as a composer of orchestral and concerted chamber music, Stanford brought to the well-worn texts of the Anglican liturgy an instrumental orientation which at once superseded contemporary settings by Elvey, MacFarren, Hopkins, Garrett, Stainer and S.S. Wesley. In developing the ‘instrumental’ dimension of a liturgical idiom that, in order to emphasis the religious sentiment of the text, had until then always been primarily ‘choral’ (and deliberately archaic in style), he was frequently able to draw a parallel between conventional movements of the symphony and the choral settings of standard items such as the Te Deum (first-movement ‘Allegro’), Magnificat (Scherzo) and Nunc Dimittis (slow movement). Links between choral ‘movements; were also reinforced by the cyclical method of thematic cross-reference, a technique gleaned from the symphonic repertoire of Stanford’s immediate forbears such as Schumann and Liszt. In establishing audible connections between the various parts of the choral service, Stanford was also able to create the effect of musical homogeneity across the entire scheme of the Sunday liturgy, thereby enhancing the overall experience of the congregation.
It was with the success of this first experiment that Stanford embarked on his second major cycle, The Service in A major Op. 12, as the result of a commission from John Stainer. Stainer’s request was for a setting only of the Evening Canticles (Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis) which were to form part of the annual Festival of the Sons of the Clergy of St Paul’s Cathedral in May 1880. Since the forces at Stanford’s disposal for the Festival were orchestral, his initial conception of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis were quintessentially orchestral ( a feature evident from the prominence and difficulty of the organ part). Completed in February 1880 both movements exhibit a consolidation and expansion of the symphonic dimensions of the B flat service. This is particularly apparent in the conspicuous role of the organ in the Nunc Dimittis (an archetypal ‘slow’ movement) which features a rich lyrical duet in the tenor register, originally conceived for divided celli. Together with the melancholy strains of the oboe in the central phase (‘which Thou hast prepared’), the heraldic scoring of ‘ To be a light to lighten the Gentiles’ and the affecting ‘hushed’ return of the opening material, this setting must stand as one of Stanford’s most fervent utterances in all his church music.
As the music lists as Trinity College, Cambridge show, the A major Evening Service was soon adapted for organ accompaniment and became a regular feature of the choir’s repertoire as did a number of Stanford’s anthems and introits. Moreover its passionate emotionalism and harmonic resourcefulness provided a significant paradigm for Stanford’s contemporaries such as Parry (notably his ‘Great’ Service in D major written soon afterwards in 1881), Thomas Tertius Noble, Alan Gray (both of whom assisted Stanford at Trinity College) And Charles Wood.
Such was the popularity of the Service in B flat that Novello succeeded in persuading Stanford to provide further settings of the Morning, Communion and Evening Services. In 1889 a Service in F Op. 36 was completed (with optional organ) and in 1895, three years after his resignation as organist at Trinity College, he composed the Morning and Communion parts of the A major Service. In the Te Deum Stanford composed one of his most monothematic and discursive movements drawing on quite new material. For the Benedictus, a dialogue based essentially between the basses and the rest of the choir, and the Jubilate Deo a link was forged with the Evening music by the use of the same setting of the Gloria. For the Communion Offices Stanford produced settings of all the choral parts of the liturgy (except the Benedictus qui venit and Agnus Dei); this included the Responses to the Commandments, the Gospel responses (not sung here) and the Sursum Corda. For the Credo the composer returned the the brisk ¾ Allegro temp of the Te Deum and Magnificat, and from the latter derived the main melodic material of the opening idea (an upward scale from A to E followed by a downward leap back to A). Like the Te Deum, the Credo is largely constructed on the one thematic element, an organic process of symphonic development broken only by the musical genuflection (‘And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost’) in F major. The use of such tonality, and its striking effect, was one already used in the Magnificat (e.g. ‘He hath shewed strength with His arm’). The Gloria in Excelsis similarly gravitates towards both C major and F major and moves flatter still towards the Neapolitan (B flat major) before its conclusion (‘art most high in the glory of Thy people Israel’).
For the coronation of Edward VII in 1902 Stanford orchestrated his Te Deum in B flat and the following year he orchestrated the rest of the service. During 1902 he also began work on the Morning, Communion and Evening Service in G Op. 81 which he dedicated to his one-time colleague at the Royal College of Music, Sire George Martin who was organist at St Paul’s Cathedral. It was published by Houghton & Co. In 1904 and the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis were orchestrated by the composer in May 1907.
The Service in G signals a departure both in its more intense symphonic handling of its material and also in the cyclic dimension. The opening of the Te Deum (‘We praise Thee, O God’) introduces an idea which is then taken up as the central theme of the doxology heard at the close of the Benedictus, Jubilate, Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis. This technique Stanford was to work to even greater effect in the Service in C major Op. 115 (See Priory PRCD 437). Allied with this increased sense of cyclic unity is a more organic method of development enriched by a wide harmonic vocabulary. Inevitably this gave rise to a more sophisticated attitude towards structure and tonality. This is particularly interesting in the larger movements such as the Te Deum, Credo, Gloria and Magnificat which Stanford confronted with his usual imagina-tion and flair, but the shorter movements, notably the Nunc Dimittis, also reveal a greater degree on involution.
The Te Deum, by far the most substantial of all the texts, falls back on the comparable plan of the Te Deum Op. 10. Here Stanford opts for a division of four main textual sections in which the last recapitulates and reworks material from the first. However, this ostensibly simple procedure is executed with great deftness, for in the third, appropriately more tranquil section (‘We therefore pray Thee’) Stanford sets this in doleful G minor which is carried through to the recapitulation (‘O Lord, have mercy upon us’) before reverting to the tonic major. The Benedictus, a modified ternary structure, it also concise in its handling of the text. Especially striking here is the rapid tonal divergence in the middle section (‘And thou, Child’) and the recovery (‘To give light to them that sit in darkness’) which restates the opening idea but in truncated form.The closing phrase (‘and to guide our feet into the way of peace’) is a gem. For the shorter text of the Jubilate Deo Stanford constructed a monothematic through-composed form whose interest lies primarily in its tonal explorations. Perhaps most distinctive of all is the climatic arrival on the Neapolitan (‘and speak good of His Name’) which subsides, tranquilly, on to the dominant G with the opening ideal sung by a quarter of soloists. For the communion Service Stanford provided different responses to all ten commandments and to the Gospel (the latter not sung here). The Credo, like the Jubilate, is largely monothematic and features some of Stanford’s most experimental harmony, notably at the dramatic juncture ‘and the third day He rose again’. This moment is initiated by a telling reference to E flat major which appears again as the key of the Sanctus, a splendidly concise miniature with the most sumptuous closing progressions.
One of the characteristics particular to the Gloria in Excelsis is its emphasis on lyricism. Already there had been a hint of this stylistic penchant in the third section of the Te Deum (see above), but in the Gloria the emphasis on melodic writing goes much further as if to suggest the influence of the Lieder tradition (e.g. ‘O Lord, the only begotten Son’), an impression reinforced by ‘pianistic’ running quavers of the organ accompaniment. This and the felicitous antiphony of solo treble and answering choir (‘That takest away the sins of the world’) does much to anticipate the memorable and unique sound of the Magnificat, undoubtedly the best known and best-loved movement of the Service. Here the Schubertian image of ‘Gretchen am Spinnrad’ provides a compelling reinterpretation of the song of Mary. The Nunc Dimittis is equally inspired. Germane to its structure is a deftly simple cadential formula heard at the outset which is given textual identity at the end of the solo bass’s first strain (‘depart in peace’). Permeating the entire movement this brief idea is used to great effect in the closing stages of the Gloria not only at the final cadence (‘Amen’) but also, more subtly, in the exquisite wilting phrases of ‘world without end’. The assimilation of the Gloria into the Nunc Dimittis (and not merely as an appendage), the manner in which initial reference is made to the original ‘Gloria’ material and, most affectingly, the way in which former exultation is transformed into contemplation must lie amongst Stanford’s greatest musical achievements in church music.
© Jeremy Dibble
This book on the history of the various Durham Cathedral Organs was first published in 1991 but has been unavailable for some time.
We are pleased to announce that it is now again available in a revised and reprinted edition.
The book is on sale in the Cathedral shop for £8.99 or by post from the Chapter Office, The College, Durham DH1 3EH (cheques to DCCA for £10.49 inc p&p). Only £5 when bought with any DVD.
James Lancelot, director
Ian Shaw, organ
Durham Cathedral Choir
This recording seeks to encapsulate in relatively permanent manner something of the form and feeling of the daily worship offered in Durham Cathedral. Because worship, however carefully planned and rehearsed, is spontaneous and offered largely by clergy and choir in the presence of and on behalf of a congregation, a recording made on two separate occasions in an otherwise empty cathedral will inevitably lose some of the atmosphere of an actual service. On the other hand it can also be shared by very many who may never have a chance to visit the cathedral itself.
At Durham, as at other ancient English cathedrals, there is a tradition of daily choral worship which stretches back for centuries, broken only at the time of the Common-wealth. When the cathedral was a Benedictine monastery, the daily offices would have been sung by the monks in choir, joined for many of the services by the Choristers, or singing-boys. After the dissolution of the monastery the choir, now composed of Choristers and Lay Clerks, continued to sing Matins and Evensong daily. Matins,as also Holy Communion, is still sung on Sundays: but (Again, as elsewhere) it is Evensong which is still sung every day; and, speaking generally, it is in Even-song that English Cathedral music is tended to find its most inspired and characteristic expression.
So this recoding seeks to capture something of the atmosphere of the daily worship offered at Evensong. More than that, it attempts to represent Evensong as it might be sung on a special day, namely the feast of Saint Cuthbert on 20 March.
Born in 634 in the Scottish Borders, Cuthbert became a monk in Melrose in 651. After a period as Guest Master at Ripon and a return to Melrose as Prior, he became Prior of Lindisfarne (now also known as Holy Island). He was consecrated Bishop of Lindisfarne in 685, and died in his retreat on Fame Island on 20 March 687. A man of intense prayer, beloved of all with whom he came into contact, and to whom numerous miracles have been attributed, he is the most famous saint of the north-east.
In 857 Danish raiders destroyed the monastery at Lindisfarne, forcing the monks to flee and to take with them the body of St Cuthbert. It was not until over a century later, in 995, that the saint’s remains reached their final resting place, on a hill almost entirely surrounded by the River Wear. Here, to enclose his shrine, a cathedral was built, being pulled down in 1092 to make way for the present one which was started the following year. If it had not been for St. Cuthbert, Durham Cathedral would never have existed.
The Office of Evensong reached the form in which it is heard here in 1662, where it forms part of the Book of Common Prayer. Much of the material in the service goes back a further century, to the time of Miles Coverdale (the translator of the psalms) and Thomas Cranmer. The readings are from the twentieth-century Revised Standard Version of the Bible: the prayers include material by the seventeenth-century metaphysical poet John Donne and by the compilers of the Alternative Service Book of 1980. But, despite the varied provenance of the words, the formality of the language and the rounded cadences of the psalms in particular will strike some as old-fashioned. It is not only a tribute to the quality of the words but also a sign of encouragement and hope that composers of all periods, including those of the present day, have felt inspired to set them to music which is of its own time. In this recording, words written centuries ago are heard set to music written (mostly) during our own lifetimes. And so the tradition, old though it is, is constantly renewing itself and finding new expression and life.
The service opens with a setting by Richard Lloyd (organist of Durham Cathedral until 1985) of a poem by George Herbert. The setting of the Canticles is by Kenneth Leighton, whose untimely death in 1988 robbed Britain of one her finest composers. The anthem, commissioned by the Dean and Chapter of Durham for the 1300th anniversary of the death of St Cuthbert, reflects the influence on John Tavener of the Orthodox tradition. As he has written, “this Ikon of St Cuthbert, an ikon of music and words in the place of wood and paint, seeks to recall, in its stylised form, the personal aura of Cuthbert”. The Responses by Francis Grier show something of the same Orthodox influence. The hymn was written by Peter Baelz, then Dean of Durham, for the redadication of the cathedral bells in 1980 (the names in the first and last verse are those given to the cathedral bells). Since then this has been one of the hymns sung at Evensong on St Cuthbert’s Day during the procession to the tomb of St Cuthbert. The organ music which frames the Office looks, as so often, beyond these shores: in this case to Paris, the twentieth-century Paris of Langlais and Mulet.
© James Lancelot, 1990