After visiting Arundel for the Libera concert, my boyfriend and I added two more days in London. On Sunday 6 May we attended Mass at St. Paul’s Cathedral and Evensong at Westminster Abbey. The choir at St. Paul’s sang the Missa octo vocum by Hans Leo Hassler (1562-1612), a setting for eight voices dividing the choir into two separate choirs. I thought their music director Andrew Carwood directed them forcefully and I enjoyed the parts with high and low voices together the best. It’s a great feat to pull off a Mass setting with this complexity, but they did not impress me as much as the last time I heard them. I thought they did not always blend beautifully. The anthem, Dic nobis, Maria by Giovanni Bassano, with words from the sequence on Easter Day, was very nice though and the organ voluntary, Prelude and Fugue in C major (BWV 547) by Bach, played om the remote console next to the choir, was just spectacular. A nice bonus was the fact that the closing hymn was How Shall I Sing that Majesty?, which the Libera song of the same title, the last song of the previous night’s concert, is based on 😉
The Westminster Abbey Choir did not disappoint however, on the contrary. I think right now they are my favourite English church choir. I was so lucky to be able to hear them last Sunday because they sang beautiful classic responses by William Byrd and a Psalm setting by Samuel Wesley (Psalm 96) as well as the very modern and dynamic Jesus College service by William Mathias and an anthem which is one of my absolute favourites: Great is the Lord by Edward Elgar. This setting of Psalm 48 showcases a wonderful range of choral singing and is the first song on the CD I bought of the Abbey choir as a souvenir of my first visit there last year in March. And they sang it even more beautiful than on that recording. The dynamics were played out even more; each section of the song was given its own momentum, especially the dramatic part about the kings who were amazed and dismayed and hasted away. Each picture was painted perfectly. The baritone solo that follows was just fantastic, so peaceful – a rich, bronze voice that warmed up the whole church. And the moment when the trebles start the part of “Let mount Zion be glad” really was a moment of glad tidings approaching, culminating in a wonderful, powerful climax. Amazing and hats off to James O’Donnell.
What I love about the Abbey is not just its stunning atmosphere but also the fact that you can hear each voice so clearly, especially when seated in the choir stalls. Two of the basses on the Decani side really stood out for me. They seemed to be enjoying themselves a lot as well. One of them had a bit too much vibrato to my taste, but it’s really minor remarks for a choir of this standard.
I was also struck by the way some of the young trebles listened attentively to the long sermon by the former Bishop of Hereford, which sounded a lot like a lecture in school, despite its inspiring material. What a childhood it must be for these young boys, getting so close in contact not only with amazing music but food for thought as well. There were two probationers in the stalls, directly opposite to us, who made me wonder how they experienced this service. I would so love to borrow their head one day to see what a day in their life is like 🙂 The service ended with a hymn that is now becoming a favourite, Love divine, all loves excelling. All in all a wonderful experience.