Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Choral Contemplations VII: Concert in Memory of Andrew Graham-Service

The varied and enjoyable Choral Contemplation VII Concert held on Tuesday 5 February 2019 was organised in conjunction with the Glasgow Society of Organists (GSO) at the University of Glasgow Memorial Chapel. It was in memory of long-standing Glasgow organist Andrew Graham-Service. The performers included the University of Glasgow Chapel Choir with the conducting shared by Sophie Boyd (Lanfine Conducting Scholar), Katy Lavinia Cooper (Director of Chapel Music) and Tiffany Vong (Lanfine Organ Scholar). The organ was played on this occasion by the University Organist, Kevin Bowyer.

Andrew Graham-Service was the longest-serving member of the GSO, having been involved for over 80 years.  He kept a close interest in the Society affairs right up to his death. Born on 9 October 1917, Graham-Service died on 15 July 2017.

The programme for the evening included organ solos, choral anthems and two examples of the very Scottish genre of the ‘paraphrase’. These latter were passages of scripture (other than the Psalms) which had been rewritten in a metrical (verse) form. In 1929 the Church of Scotland published a revised edition of The Scottish Psalter and Church Hymnary which (I understand) included several paraphrases.
Two examples were splendidly sung by the choir: ‘Blest be the everlasting God,’ No.61 and ‘How Bright these glorious spirits shine,’ No.66. Both texts were derived from hymns by Isaac Watts (1674-1748) with alterations and amendments by William Cameron (1751-81).  The former paraphrase was set to a tune attributed to Jeremiah Clarke (1673-1707) and the latter, to ‘St Asaph,’ sometimes credited to the Italian Giovanni Giornovichi (1747-1804). The president of the GSO showed the audience Andrew Graham-Service’s copy of the 1929 Psalter, bought just a few years after publication.

The concert opened with J.S. Bach’s (1685-1750) early chorale prelude ‘Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier’ (‘Dearest Jesus, we are here’) BWV 731. The mood of the piece is prayerful and was often played before the sermon. The soloist is required to play a highly-embellished melody, that sounds more like the slow movement of a keyboard concerto than a ‘religious’ work.  The second Bach prelude was from the Orgelbüchlein: ‘Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ’ (‘Lord, hear the voice of my complaint’) BWV 639. This was written in the grave key of F minor which reflects the melancholic mood of the text. It is a prayer for heavenly grace: free and undeserved help from God. The third chorale prelude heard was ‘Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein’, (‘When in the hour of utmost need’) BWV 641, also taken from the Orgelbüchlein. The programme notes are correct in suggesting that it is a ‘song of consolation.’ All were played with sympathetic understanding and satisfying registrations.

The first anthem was Orlando Gibbons’ (c.1583-1625) ‘This is the Record of John’. This work was composed in 1620 for William Laud, the then-future Archbishop of Canterbury. The setting is based on the Gospel of St John 1: 19-23. and meditates on the story of John the Baptist. The anthem is divided into three sections, each introduced by a counter-tenor solo and then commented on by the full choir. It was sung tonight with great sensitivity.  

I was delighted to hear J.S. Bach’s motet, ‘O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht’ (‘O Jesus Christ, my life’s light’) BWV 118. The performance was a flawless equilibrium between the choir and the accompaniment.

Gordon Cameron’s Prelude ‘Martyrdom’ from his Six Preludes on Hymn Tunes is interesting.  It seems to owe little to any liturgical mood and more to an attractive musical interpretation of the composer’s adopted homeland. The hymn tune ‘Martyrdom’ dates from around 1800, when a traditional melody was adapted by Ayrshire-born, Hugh Wilson (c.1766-1824) into a hymn tune. It was originally an eighteenth-century Scottish folk melody used for the ballad ‘Helen of Kirkconnel.’ ‘Martyrdom’ is typically set to the words ‘Alas! and did my Saviour Bleed.’ 
There is no ‘formal’ biography of [John] Gordon Cameron (1900-89) except for a few fugitive references here and there. Despite his Scottish-sounding name, Cameron was born in Cardiff in 1900. He studied at Ellesmere College, Christ’s College Cambridge and Edinburgh University. Whilst at Cambridge, Cameron was one of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford’s last pupils. Before his appointment to St Mary’s Episcopalian Cathedral, Great Western Road, Glasgow, he was organist at St John’s Episcopal Church in Dumfries (1937-44).  Gordon Cameron died in 1989.

Edgar Bainton’s (1880-1956) evocative anthem, ‘And I saw a new Heaven’, based on four verses extracted from Revelation, Chapter 21, has remained popular in cathedrals and church choirs since its composition in 1928. The University of Glasgow Chapel Choir gave this song of praise a perfect performance. It is (for me) one of the most inspiring and uplifting anthems ever written.

Master Tallis’s Testament was issued as part of Herbert Howells (1892-1983) ‘Six Pieces’ published in 1953. This included music composed between 1940 and 1945 and represents a good conspectus of Howells’ wartime organ works. The Testament is a clever fusion of ‘sixteenth century modality’ with ‘twentieth century sensuality.’ It is a set of variations which develop in complexity and intensity, but concludes with a short, quiet coda. Kevin Bowyer revealed the work’s powerful contrast between ‘Tallis’s Tudor influence’ and the composer’s 'characteristic harmonic idiom’'.

The final choral work was Howells’s ‘Jubilate Deo’ (Collegium Regale) During the Second World War, Howells took over the post of organist at St John's College, Cambridge whilst Robin Orr, the incumbent, was on active service. It is known that Howells was never happier than during these years. Paul Spicer tells the story of how in 1943 Dean Eric Milner-White of King's College presented Howells and Patrick Hadley with a challenge to write a new setting of the ‘Te Deum’ and ‘Jubilate Deo.’ Howells accepted: Hadley declined. The Collegium Regale ‘service’ was duly heard at King's College in 1944 and Howells collected his bet - one Guinea (£1.05p). It is a great song of praise and brought the University of Glasgow Chapel Choir’s contribution to this concert to an exhilarating conclusion.

The organ finale of the concert was Bach’s electrifying Fantasia in G major, BWV 572. From the opening ‘Très vitement’ with its dextrous arpeggiated chords to the powerful and almost overwhelming ‘Gravement’ and the ‘Lentement’, with its sextuplets split between hands rushing headlong towards the coda, it impressed. This three-part work was played with massive dynamism and enthusiasm, displaying the technique of the soloist Kevin Bowyer and the power of the organ to great effect. It was a splendidly robust conclusion to an excellent concert.

The Glasgow University Memorial Chapel three-manual organ was originally commissioned in 1927 by Henry Willis and Sons and was restored by Harrison and Harrison in 2005. It was a gift to Glasgow University from Joseph Paton Maclay, Lord Maclay, in memory of his two sons who were killed during the Great War.

Finally, the Lanfine scholarships derive from the noted surgeon and palaeontologist Dr Thomas Brown of Lanfine and Waterhaughs (1774-1853). On his daughter Martha’s death, the family fortune was donated to Glasgow University to provide the Lanfine Bursaries. The Lanfine and Waterhaughs estate is in the county of Ayrshire, south of the village of Darvel.

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