This splendid new CD from the Choir of York Minster, directed by Robert Sharpe, proves that there is tremendous life in the old traditional forms of worship yet. The Book of Common Prayer (with a few exceptions) and traditional music here deliver a timeless performance of Evensong. The celebration is that of the Feast of the Dedication of a Church. It speaks ‘not just of the blessing and hallowing of time, but also space and architecture.’
The proceedings open with an Improvisation, op.84 no.2 written by Francis Jackson, erstwhile organist at York Minster between 1946-1982. He celebrated his 100th birthday on 2 October 2017. This quiet restrained piece allows the congregation to assemble and prepare themselves.
For me, one of the most evocative moments in the service of Evensong is the ringing of the vestry bell to announce that the robed choir should assemble. This is followed by a short ‘aisle prayer’ sung by the precentor with choral responses. The choir then process to their stalls accompanied by a short organ improvisation.
The first formal part of the service is John Shepperd’s beautiful ‘Liber nos, salva nos’ (Set us free, save us). It is written in six parts plus the plainsong ‘original’ appearing in the bass.
The Preces and Responses are by William Smith (1603-45), an English composer based in Durham. They are deservedly popular.
One of the great glories of the English Church are the Psalms. These were included in the Book of Common Prayer by Thomas Cranmer, and based on a translation by Miles Coverdale. Add to this the traditional Anglican method of chanting these Psalms and we have a perfect fusion of words and music. The entire Book of Psalms, all 150 of them, is required to be sung in order at Matins and Evensong over a period of a month. The present CD calls for Psalms 69 and 70 which are appointed for the thirteenth evening of the month. These have a few verses omitted, as proposed in the 1928 BCP Revision: they reflect a ‘sub Christian’ attitude to one’s enemies. The chants sung, are by Thomas Tertius Noble, Charles Leigh Naylor and George Surtees Talbot.
The two lessons, read by the Dean and the Chancellor respectively, are taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the bible, which claims to be politically correct in every detail and devoid of bothersome (!) thees, thous, hasts, wasts and dosts etc.
The Mag. and Nunc Dim. are the impressive St Paul’s Service by Herbert Howells. This well-known setting was composed in 1950. It is eminently suitable for a cathedral with a big acoustic and an impressive pipe organ. It is a masterpiece.
Howells is also represented with the anthem ‘O Pray for the peace of Jerusalem’ (Psalm 122) which is a quiet, reflective work that is especially appropriate for Evensong. It was one of Four Anthems composed when Howells was staying in Cheltenham in 1941.
The Creed is spoken, and the Lord’s Prayer is a lovely setting by the sixteenth-century composer Robert Stone.
Edward Bairstow was organist at York Minster between 1913 and 1946. It is appropriate that one of his most celebrated anthems is sung here. ‘Blessed City, heavenly Salem’ was composed around 1914 for a group of West Riding churches: it is based on the plainsong melody traditionally associated with the Latin hymn ‘Urbs beata Hierusalem’.
Typically, there is a single congregational hymn at Evensong. In this case it is the well-known ‘Ye that know the Lord is gracious’ set by Charles Hubert Hastings Parry with the tune ‘Rustington’. For this special festival, the third verse has an inspiring descant devised by Benjamin Morris. I am not sure that the congregation is joining in here.
It is interesting that the Minster chose to sing the ‘Te Deum Laudamus’ in this celebration of Evensong. It was often the practice to include this canticle on High Days and Holy Days, usually preceding the inspiring (for those who approve!) ‘Anglo Catholic’ office of Benediction. Vaughan Williams’ ‘Te Deum’ was composed in 1928 specifically for the enthronement of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang. Before this appointment, Lang had been Archbishop of York for some 20 years. It is therefore a fitting choice for the conclusion of this service.
After a short prayer, the service concludes with the exuberant ‘Finale’ from Louis Vierne’s Organ Symphony No.3 composed in 1911. Although nominally written in F# minor, the concluding bars establish the major key, thus concluding on a hugely positive mood.
The detailed liner notes by John Lee give all the information required to enjoy and follow this uplifting service of Evensong from York Minster. The texts of the entire service, including the readings is included.
Three things make this CD a great investment for all lovers of Anglican Cathedral Music. Firstly, the outstanding singing by York Minster Choir, secondly the superb organ playing by Benjamin Morris. These are reflected in an excellent recording. But, most important of all is the opportunity to hear an entire performance of Evensong, including the intercessions, the congregational hymn and the bible readings. All this allows the listener to sink into the atmosphere and fully enjoy the full sweep of Thomas Cranmer’s (with a few tinkerings) glorious and unsurpassed achievement.
Francis JACKSON (b.1917) Improvisation, op 84 no 2
Bell and Aisle Prayer/ Organ improvisation (Benjamin MORRIS)
Introit: Libera nos, salva nos John SHEPPARD (c.1515-59)
Preces: William SMITH (1603-45)
Psalms 69 and 70: Chants by Thomas Tertius NOBLE, (1867-1953) Charles Leigh NAYLOR (1869-1945) George Surtees TALBOT (1875-1918)
First Lesson: Genesis 28: 11–18 The Very Reverend Vivienne Faull, Dean of York
Magnificat: St Paul’s Service Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
Second Lesson: 1 Peter 2:1–10 The Reverend Canon Dr Christopher Collingwood, Chancellor
Nunc dimittis: St Paul’s Service Herbert HOWELLS
Lesser Litany: (Responses) William SMITH, Lord’s Prayer: Robert STONE (1516-1613) Anthem: Edward Cuthbert BAIRSTOW (1874-1946) Blessed City, heavenly Salem
The Intercessions: The Reverend Canon Peter Moger, Precentor
Anthem: Herbert HOWELLS O pray for the peace of Jerusalem
Hymn: Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848-1918) Ye that know the Lord is gracious (Rustington)–v3 descant by Benjamin MORRIS
Te Deum: Ralph Vaughan WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Te Deum Laudamus in G [5:05]
Organ Voluntary: Louis VIERNE (1870-1937) Final: Symphonie 3 in F sharp minor, op 28
The Choir of York Minster/Robert Sharpe, Benjamin Morris (organ)
Rec. York Minster, 8-10 February 2017
REGENT REGCD 506
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.