Tuesday, 17 July 2018

An evening with the choir
of King’s College, Cambridge,
in Saint Mary’s Cathedral


Patrick Comerford

Last night’s concert by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, may well be remembered as the highlight of the celebrations this year marking the 850th anniversary of the foundation of the cathedral in 1168.

In his programme notes, Peter Barley points out that at the head of his score for his setting of Psalm 48, Edward Elgar described the piece as ‘being an anthem for the foundation or commemoration of a church.’ So, he says, this was a particularly apt choice for last night’s concert celebrating the 850th anniversary of the cathedral.

He also notes that Elgar that this setting was first performed in Westminster Abbey on the same evening 106 years ago, 16 July 2018. However, Elgar had begun work on this psalm setting in early August 1910, while he was in the middle of finishing the coring of his Violin Cocerto.

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised:
in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness.


I found the most moving piece in this concert was Lord, thou hast been our refuge by Ralph Vaughan Williams, his setting for Psalm 90.

Next year also marks the 60th anniversary of the death of Vaughan Williams, who died on 26 August 1958.

Edward Elgar and Hubert Parry were important influences on Vaughan Williams. In his notes, Peter Barley observes that on hearing this anthem, especially its stirring ending, one can detect Vaughan Williams response to Parry’s exhortation to him to write choral music ‘as befits an Englishman and democrat.’

Vaughan Williams was an anti-war campaigner, with a strong social conscience and a radical political voice, so it would be interesting to know how this most English of composers would respond to today’s ‘Brexit’ debates.

Sung concurrently with the Psalm are the words from the first verse of Isaac Watts’s hymn:

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come.
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.


At the end of the concert, I was invited by the Dean of Saint Mary’s, the Very Revd Niall Sloane, to make a presentation as Precentor on behalf of the Cathedral Chapter and the Cathedral Community to Stephen Cleobury, who has been the Director of Music for the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, for 35 years.

The Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge seen from the Backs (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The programme last night included choral music from the choir’s extensive repertoire, including music by Orlando Gibbons, Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Herbert Howells, Hubert Parry and Judith Weir.

This evening’s full programme was:

Orlando Gibbons, Verse anthems (‘This is the Record of John,’ ‘O thou, the central orb’ and ‘See, the Word is incarnate’) (with organ)

Judith Weir, ‘Illuminare, Jerusalem’ and Ascending into heaven’

Simon Preston, ‘Alleluyas’ (organ solo)

EW Naylor, ‘Vox dicentis, clama’

Hubert Parry, ‘I know my soul hath power,’ and Lord, let me know mine end (Songs of Farewell, No 2 and No 6)

Edward Elgar, Psalm 48, ‘Great is the Lord’

Herbert Howells, ‘Psalm Prelude’ Set I No 1 (organ solo)

Ralph Vaughan Williams, ‘Lord, thou has been our refuge’

Hubert Parry, ‘Never weather-beaten sail’ and ‘My soul, there is a country’ (Songs of Farewell, No 3 and No 1).

Entering Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, by the Great West Door for last night’s concert (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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