Category Archives: Evensong

Libera concert in London

After an intense period in my personal life, my boyfriend and I decided it would be a good idea after all to go to London for the Libera concert in St. George’s Cathedral, Southwark on Friday November 16. And so it happened! 🙂 With thanks to viabuona and Yorkie from Libera Dreams for help with the tickets (yay!).

We checked into our hostel across from St. Paul’s Cathedral on Thursday. When we went for a walk to Buckingham Palace, the first thing that caught our eye were the many wreaths and poppies left behind from Remembrance Sunday. Everytime we would see them we would stop and it was a moving sight.

At Buckingham Palace we enjoyed clicking away with our cameras like the tourists we were 🙂 We enjoyed the sculptures of the Victoria Memorial and the smithwork of the Canada Gate, to the right of the palace. We also saw a very nice horse carriage pass between all the busy cabs, and guards marching in front of St. James’ Palace.

In St. James’ Park, next to the famous Mall, we marveled at the lovely autumn colours and gorgeous design of the plants and trees. After a short stroll along the water with many beautiful swans and geese, we relaxed on a bench and I even got to feed a squirrel 🙂

Ofcourse, no trip to London is complete without a choral evensong somewhere, and we ended up going to Westminster Abbey again. Always a treat, and an extra special one this time because there was also the admission of an honorary steward (a person who helps to welcome and direct the congregation, maintains order during worship and receives and offers alms). A short and very British ceremony – the medal for the honorary steward being presented on a cushion and everything 🙂 I even thought I recognised the lady in question from a previous visit. As for the choir, we were seated just a few seats away, on the decani side, and heard the cantoris side mostly. There were twelve boys on that side, they only just fit in the stalls! And five probationers as well. The singing was excellent as always and there was one ‘Amen’ in particular that really stood out in musicality. The anthem was Samuel Sebastian Wesley’s Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, which was also sung at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. (I know because I bought a souvenir CD/DVD with music from that service and a tour of the Abbey in the Abbey Shop ;))
I also met a man from Oregon whose wife sings professionally with the Oregon Repertory Singers. Ofcourse, when asked, I told him the reason of my visit to London and made sure I did as much promotion for Libera and the concert as I could 🙂

We concluded the day with a decent dinner and going to see the Christmas lights at Regent Street which were a bit disappointing (we expected all kinds of figures and such but it was just a row of reindeer antlers), but we did run into a lovely little Japanese shop.

Exploring the city was also great the next morning, when we went to the Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House. On our way, we went into some bookstores, a Twinings tea shop, a church and even found our way through a street that reminded us of our previous trip to the UK 😉

At Somerset House, we already got a bit Christmassy, watching people skate next to a huge Christmas tree.

In the Courtauld Gallery, a modest but very nice gallery of art from medieval times to the 20th century, we marveled at the gorgeous staircase and many beautiful paintings and sculptures.

Having feasted our eyes and our mouths (they serve great lunch too), it was time to head for the place to be: St. George’s Cathedral. As we crossed Waterloo bridge we had a perfect moody, foggy view of Westminster with Big Ben and Westminster Abbey.

When we arrived at the cathedral, I was impressed by the crucifix outside and we saw a small poster advertising the concert.

At that time, just after 4pm, it was still possible to go inside, where the Kinetic String Quartet and Tom Cully were rehearsing with the sound people, including Sam Coates. There was also a photographer walking around the stage area, so maybe there were pictures taken that night.

We shook hands with fans from all over the world and I even received two very nice choral CD’s from Yorkie and viabuona. It was nice to be able to sit in this relaxed and warm atmosphere, hear parts of Libera songs and get excited about the concert.

At one point I spotted Robert Prizeman talking to Sam Coates and since we had exchanged e-mails before I ventured to the front to introduce myself. Poor Robert, he was in such a hurry he had no time to remember who I was, but said “Lovely to have met you, sorry, gotta run, maybe I’ll see you later.” That didn’t happen, but oh well 😉

Ofcourse, we couldn’t stay in the back of the church forever and a friendly gentleman allowed us to sit in the adjacent building, where it was warm and there were tables, chairs and three banners promoting Libera and telling their story in words and pictures. Very nice to see!

Now the waiting could really begin. At one point, Steven Philipp came in and explained that premium ticket holders would be allowed in first through the door of that waiting room, and then the people with general tickets would be allowed in from outside. This caused some confusion whether or not general ticket holders who were also in the waiting room, because they were so early (like us), would also be allowed to ‘queue’ inside. Luckily, a lady working for Libera later confirmed that yes, this was the case. Yay 🙂 I got a bit nervous while it was still unclear but I appreciate Libera’s effort to improve how they manage the whole queueing business.

Queueing is mostly waiting but sometimes very nice things happen. For instance, there was a lady from (I think) Japan who went to the lady selling tickets, asking if there were any left. Apparently she had come all this way to London to see Libera, even without a ticket. Her courage paid off: a fan offered his spare ticket to her. The joy and surprise on her face were priceless.
A very different moment occurred when suddenly Sammy Moriarty appeared in the waiting room in his normal outfit and carrying a sports bag, not sure what the exact entrance to the church was 😉 He was then kindly directed to where he should go 😉

Then finally at 7pm the door swung open and we could find our seats! For some reason, our tickets were never checked but in the slight confusion caused by this, we still managed to find a seat on the third row from where the general admission seats started.

We sat next to a boy who is a friend of Libera newbie Alex Montoro and we got the impression there were indeed many choir parents in the church that night. Behind us were parents with their kids who knew the people next to us and on the last row of the VIP seats in front of us was a young boy engrossed in his colouring books who looked terribly familiar, like Ciaran but different.

I’ll run through the setlist now and share my thoughts on the songs. In general I can say it was a splendid night, it was great to see and hear a full choir again (not as in Arundel, when the bigger boys and therefore the lower voices were absent). With 34 choristers on stage (five newbies, three of them singing only part of the concert) it sure looked crowded! All in all I found this concert the best of the four I’ve been to, comparable to the first time I saw them (Dublin 2009, front row ;)). By the way, check out other blogs and forums for precise details about soloists, I didn’t remember all of them, since there was often more than one soloist (a new trend perhaps?).

Dies irae/Gloria
Great opening, directly catches your attention, very lively. I liked the transition from Dies irae to Gloria, very smoothly done. I was touched when I saw Ralph and Stefan in the back row, with the bigger boys like Daniel and Tiarnán. It was like they earned their place in this ‘hall of fame’. Although it’s a bittersweet joy, as they both don’t sing solo anymore. With every loss there is a gain, and vice versa.

Eternal Light
Jude struggled with a cough in the beginning but he stood his ground which always wins me over. When a singer, especially this young, has to be brave like this and something gets in the way, it always makes me sympathetic for him. In this case I have to admire his confidence and the way he delivered his solo with full conviction to the end, including the long ending notes. Also hats off to the rest of the choir for backing him like they did. It was touching to see Josh stand behind him, who must know what Jude was going through at that moment and who was providing both vocal and moral support. So, not a musically perfect performance but still precious.

Voca Me
The first true highlight of the evening. It was so exciting to hear this song that was never sung live before until the concerts in Northern Ireland earlier this month. I thought the arrangement of the new voices worked great – it’s risky to hear a song that you’re only used to in one version in a new one but in this case it was fresh and exciting. Combined with the dramatic lighting it was a pretty adventurous experience. The climax left me breathless. What a vocal force. Absolutely amazing.

A song to settle back comfortably and just revel in the lovely harmonies. For some reason I could distinguish more parts than usual which was nice and refreshing.

I Vow to Thee My Country
Once again sung by Matthew Jansen on solo and once again he delivered formidably. This is now ‘his’ song as fas as I’m concerned. He sings it with such sincerity and with a very gentle voice and he tackles the jumps between high and low notes with great artistry. Very moving, and he seems to be the kind of modest star that Libera has a history of.

Salva Me
Same as in Arundel, with Matthew Rangel-Alvares shining on the high Salva’s.

Be Still My Soul
Another breathtaking song. They started out a cappella which truly showcased their vocal strength and ability. Just stunning. The strings came on almost unnoticed, bringing the song gently to more depth and feeling. It really touched my heart.

How Shall I Sing that Majesty
I liked how the lights were on the crucifix statue way up high above the altar. A song like this really comes to life in a setting like St. George’s Cathedral. Eoghan sang all the solo parts by himself and proved that he could pull it off. His voice has gained richness and strength, wonderful to hear when compared to his first appearance as a soloist in March 2011. Again the full choir finale to this was just wow. Big, strong, filling the space with vocal sounds.

Time to stretch our legs and get refreshments. Who can refuse a glass of red wine on a night like this? I also tried to get people on the Libera team to arrange for signatures on a T-shirt I brought. Last year I won a bet with LennesSL from Libera Dreams that I wouldn’t listen to the Christmas album until Christmas Eve. In return she got me a fanmade T-shirt that I designed, which I brought to the concert. Unfortunately the Libera staff people didn’t manage to get it signed for me. Oh well, maybe next time.

(This is me in the T-shirt. It says Faithful Heart in pink at the bottom :))

In the back of the church I saw a young boy trying to sing like Libera to one of his parents. So if he’s the next star soloist in a couple of years, I was there when it all started, hehe. I also saw several people praying and lighting candles in front of a statue of Christ on the cross and a pietà. It was very moving to see that despite all the busy excitement on a night like this, a Libera concert also generates prayer.

On a more secular note: I noticed that besides Song of Life (advertised as a ‘brand new album’, even though it’s a greatest hits collection), The Christmas album and Libera car stickers there was nothing else on sale. None of the other albums were there. And the copies that were, were sold as ‘the last ones in stock’. Does EMI not supply them properly? Nor did Steven Philipp come up like he did in Arundel to promote the merchandise and encourage people to spread the word about Libera. I wonder why.

There wasn’t much time to muse on these matters though, as the second part of the concert would soon start. When we were seated again, I suddenly noticed Jude and five of his ‘colleagues’ (I think Michael Menezes and Thomas Delgado-Little were among them) being directed to the pew directly behind Sam Coates’ mixing desk. I couldn’t resist grabbing a snapshot of this moment that was exclusively reserved for general ticket holders 😉

These six boys filed in procession to the stage as Mysterium started, while the rest of Libera entered stage from the right.

A great dramatic, mysterious opening that immediately captivated the audience.

I loved how this dark mood changed into the light and bouncy temperament of Orinoco Flow. That’s what I call working creatively with your well-known material! It put a smile on my face and I was moving in my seat ’cause it’s such a happy song 😉

Far Away
Isaac sang the solo again and he really makes this a new song, very light.

The Fountain
A song that has a special significance and feeling for me since the first time I heard it. This would be the first time without Ralph as soloist. I was pretty anxious to hear how it would sound and was pleased that Matthew Jansen stepped up to take Ralph’s place. I could hear the same silvery, smooth elegance and serious tone in his voice that Ralph has, and which makes The Fountain such a haunting song. He didn’t project the same strength that Ralph has though, but his sound is very beautiful. I have to say that through my binoculars I looked at Ralph mostly. I wondered how it must feel for him to sing this song now. Ofcourse he had to learn a whole new part and let someone else take over his solo. Somehow, I don’t know why, in his case and with this song, this process gets to me more than in any other case. All in all it was an emotional experience.
What added to this was the short piano introduction by Josh, playing the motif of the Prelude by Chopin that The Fountain is based on. Talk about growth and letting go. Josh has seen so much come and go in the choir. And this Prelude, written for and played on the piano, added a lot of extra depth and meaning to me. In February I lost my grandmother on my mother’s side. At her funeral, one of my aunts played this Chopin Prelude. In October I lost my mother. She used to play piano and encouraged me to play it as well. All of this ran through my mind as I heard Josh play those notes. So much came together in so little time. There’s just something about this song that no matter how sad it makes me feel, the words of the song ring true through it all: ‘to wash all sorrow in waves of peace and love…’

Grateful Heart
A lovely little duet. I still wonder when we’ll get to see a recorded version of it. Thomas Delgado-Little and Michael Ustynovych-Repa shared this song and I have to say Thomas made a very strong impression. His clear and powerful voice makes me think he’s a promise for the future. Paired with Michael’s softer tone this was a nice little gem.

Ave Verum
Another highlight, again because of emotional depth. At the climax, the famous V formation was formed and Tiarnán stood in front, with Ralph on his left hand side. Modest, steadfast Tiarnán, shining with a big smile, singing this almost anthemic song, and Ralph, whose position on stage added emotional impact to the experience, also beaming. Just made me feel warm and proud inside. Plus it’s just a great piece of music that works everytime.

It was time for a speech again (I forgot who made the other ones but they were basically the same as always: about Moose, the robes and so on). Daniel, or should I say: deep-voiced Daniel ;), explained how exciting and surprising it can be when your voice changes and you have to learn how to use your new voice – ‘though it can make some unexpected noises at first’. It struck me when he said that some boys on stage were singing the lower harmonies for the first time. Ofcourse he also meant Stefan and Ralph. And once again I felt that little pang of loss. Especially when he announced the next song, which Ralph also used to sing the solo of for a while:

Solo now very beautifully sung by Eoghan. Moving to see them all kneeled, as usual. Again the space and architecture of the church added to this experience.

Stay With Me
Another classic that always goes down well. I find that Cassius makes this song much breezier than when Daniel sang it, like he´s happily flying in the sky 🙂

Glory to Thee
Another absolute highlight of Eoghan as soloist. His voice is simply maturing into gold. I didn’t hear the lower voices as much as I hoped in the canon but the concluding ‘Amen’ was just perfect. The whole song truly felt like an evening prayer to me.

Already it was the last song of the evening but we went out with a blast. All the colours of the rainbow shone across the church and I saw a mother dancing with her baby carried on her chest. Thomas sang his solo a bit nervous but his voice was really suited to this happy and powerful song, as was Steven’s recorder. A great finale.

Followed ofcourse by a standing ovation and tonight’s encore: the one and only signature song Libera.
Eoghan once again shone in this and Josh showed his legendary smile. Another standing ovation, bows were taken and we clapped and clapped as the boys finally waved goodbye.

Had it all really happened? I think so. It must be.
It was strange to be on the underground again so soon and back in the hostel. But the next morning my memories were still there. Thank you Libera, Robert Prizeman, all the musicians, sound people, organisers, fans, church people and last but not least all the parents who help make this all possible. It was a great night that truly lifted my spirit.


Roden Boys Choir in Haarlem

Well, what do you know? My boyfriend said “I wonder if they’ll sing the same service as two weeks ago?” and I said that would be unlikely, as they’re bound to have a different repertoire up their sleeves. And I was wrong. The only change from the service in Amsterdam was a different closing hymn, and the closing hymn from last time was now the processional hymn. But even though I was disappointed at first to see this in the program, afterwards I was really happy because the two services were a completely different experience. And the Haarlem one was much better in all respects. We were seated closer to the choir, they stood in a semi-circle instead of opposite eachother and the magnificent organ was placed right above their heads, instead of at the other end of the building. All this made for a much more riveting and emotionally rewarding listening experience.

What was more, the vicar doing the readings and leading the prayers was the same who had led the wedding ceremony of my boyfriend’s parents almost 32 years ago, and has been the vicar of my boyfriend’s grandmother for years! Unfortunately we didn’t find him after the service, so we couldn’t say hi and introduce ourselves, but it was a very nice coincidence all the same 🙂

So, as said, no difference in the program but the start was already a much different feel, as in Haarlem they make use of a traditional Introit, that is: the choir sings in the back of the church and their voices are floating through the space which gives a very chilling effect. It’s truly like angels singing – you hear them but don’t see them and the sound is quite ethereal. Then, the choir enters, singing a processional hymn (the same as the closing hymn of two weeks earlier, which liturgically speaking is quite strange!) in which the congregation joins. Already I could hear each voice group much better – yay basses! The line up was the same as in Amsterdam, I think.

During the Preces my attention was drawn to the treble line at the cantoris side, which has some very strong voices. The amazing thing was I couldn’t find out who had the strongest as they seemed to blend so seamlessly. Also there was a countertenor on the far end who now and then really caught my ear.

The Psalm was great and I really love the pleading melody by Sir Ivor Algernon Atkins which suits the bitter tone of the words. It really is a haunting prayer for mercy, with a remembrance of good times and a hope for the future.

A mystery was the voice of Roman Krjemenevsky, former treble soloist who now sings with the men. I figured his voice must have changed but as I tried to make out his voice when only the men were singing a line, it sounded to me he still has a high voice. Perhaps he sings alto? It’s things like these that make me want to check with the choir director to know what the heck my ears are hearing 😉 But I tend not to let technicalities get in the way 😉

As said, I could really hear the lower voices this time, and there was one bass in particular on the decani side who often stood out with a clear bronze ring, almost to the point where he stood out too much and didn’t fully blend with the others anymore. Though it’s only a minor complaint – after all, individual voices are bound to stand out in a setting like the St. Bavo Evensong where the choir members and the congregation are relatively close to each other.
Oh, and one more thing about sound – the echo is much longer in Haarlem and there were some beautiful moments where the closing chord vanished into the air and into the silence, and these moments really formed the last part of a piece.

What was also great this time was seeing Rintje te Wies conduct. He’s so enthusiastic and commanding, and with effect, as the boys and men almost constantly had their eyes fixed on him rather than on their scores – though ofcourse singing familiar repertoire helped too. I couldn’t help feeling he directed with more gusto than normally, and perhaps the choir needed that as there seemed to be a minor lack in their regular intensity. Though they still sing effortlessly and with such focus that it’s difficult to talk about them in these terms. And in fact, during the Nunc dimittis and the anthem I stopped paying so much rational attention to the singing and was really just swept away by the music.

This time I also noticed the different dynamics of the Evening Service canticles by Herbert Brewer much better. Traditionally, the Magnificat is more energetic than the Nunc dimittis, as the Magnificat is the song of praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary after receiving the news she will give birth to Christ, whereas the Nunc dimittis is the prayer of thanksgiving of the old man Simeon holding the newborn baby Jesus. Brewer sticks to this distinction but two weeks ago I did not really get that difference in energy and feel. This time I did. The Magnificat is very gentle but full of radiance, and the Nunc dimittis is much more quiet and peaceful, and much more moving because of it. In that respect, the two forces, so to speak, really complement eachother as two parts of a whole, rather than two pieces of the same thing.

The Collects and Responses were, as always, sung beautifully by bass Jan Vonk. His pronunciation is very good and his voice sounds great in the acoustics of the St. Bavo. It was, just like in Amsterdam, the only ‘solo’ of the evening, which I thought was a pity, and makes me wonder if this is due to the current voices available in the choir (on both occasions I was hoping for a solo by Ischi Magna or perhaps a new soloist as the Roden Boys Choir has a reputation of great soloists).

This evening there were also spoken prayers by the vicar, quite elaborate and with an emphasis on social awareness, so when the anthem came, the atmosphere, for me at least, had gotten very solemn (all the more so because the readings during the service were two of my favourites – Deuteronomy 6,4-9, the Jewish creed, and Luke 10,25-37, the parable of the Good Samaritan). Once again Rintje te Wies really took out all the dynamics of Sumsion’s evocative composition and I noticed how much the organ plays a role in this as well. The frenzy that appears halfway and the calm that ends it, were all very convincing. I also love the seemingly endless repetition of the phrases “his wonders”, which sounds almost obsessive as it describes how much there is to marvel at in the works of the Lord, and “the haven where they would be”, which really sounds like finally arriving at inner peace.

The final part of the service was reserved for the organ which, just as in Amsterdam, was played to full force to support the closing hymn. The voluntary that followed can only be described as ‘golden thunder’.

All in all this evening was full of intensity and I’m glad I went. I now know for sure that when my favourite Dutch choir sings in Haarlem, it’s not to be missed.

Introit: Lord, for thy tender mercy’s sake (Richard Farrant)
Processional hymn: Strong Son of God, immortal Love
Preces (John Sanders)
Psalm 80 (Atkins)
Evening Service (Herbert Brewer)
Collects and Responses (John Sanders)
Anthem: They that go down to the sea in ships (Herbert Sumsion)
Closing hymn: The duteous day now closeth (tune: Innsbruck)

Roden Boys Choir in Amsterdam

It was another fine summer evening yesterday with great singing as the Roden Boys Choir visited the St. Nicolaas church in Amsterdam. I had forgotten how beautiful and spacious the church is and as we were there just as the doors opened we could find seats all the way in the front of the church, under the massive dome which felt pretty special.

It had been a long time since I last heard my favourite Dutch choir sing (the last time was during Advent!) so I was curious what I could expect. I was happy when I saw they would sing one of my favourite anthems recorded by them, They that go down to the sea in ships by Herbert Sumsion.

Earlier that afternoon the boys and men had sung at a special Bach afternoon where everybody had to show up in baroque costume and were introduced to baroque music and dancing. I could not attend, but later learned that they had sung Lobet dem Herrn and Jesu bleibet meine Freude, as well as pieces by Sweelinck. I’m sure it must have been a treat and I would love to experience them singing German.
This however was a classic Anglican Evensong, minus the sermon though (not sure why). For your information, the Nicolaas church is in fact Roman Catholic but they hold choral Evensong every Saturday – I blogged about that before. During the summer there are organ recitals which I’m told are very good (if only I had more time on my hands…!).

The organ, played by Sytze de Vries, accompanied the choir and the serving pastor as they filed in procession to the altar where the Introit was sung, a mesmerizing polyphonic piece by 17th-century composer John Hilton. It was a bit difficult to hear the basses, perhaps due to the acoustics from where we were stting, perhaps due to the choir’s very strong and many trebles – with three probationers attending, so good hopes for the future. Two former trebles were now placed among the men, a sign of maturing voices. Not seeing a choir in over six months can make you note how fast choristers at a young age grow up. Wonderful to see the continued dedication to a choir in a period of their lives where choices abound. A sense of belonging and loyalty must play a part in their long-term dedication, as well as the joy of singing and an interest in music.

As for the men, they were treated with a piece just for them, as they sang a Sarum plainchant piece devoted to the Blessed Trinity, the melody of which is used in a simplified form in the current Protestant church songbook, as my boyfriend later explained (he’s a walking church song catalogue ;)). The Psalm was, surprisingly enough, the same as when we attended Evensong with the Roden Boys Choir in Advent, and the first lesson, from the Book of Lamentations, could well be from Lent. So a lot of sadness and gloom, which was answered with a gentle and compact canticle setting by Herbert Brewer. His Magnificat in D builds up to a glorious crescendo with a roaring closing chord on the organ which was a real joy to hear. About that Psalm: I thought their pronunciation was really good and precise, very tight and clear, even though some faces seemed a bit tired, perhaps from spending a long day in the capital, far from home.

After the Creed, sung by all on a single note, which made it very solemn, and the prayers, each with its own fitting repsonse (by John Sanders), it was time for the beautiful anthem which really paints the dramatic narrative of Psalm 107. It talks of shipmen on the sea and as the waves become very violent because of a storm “they reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man”. The tension gradually falls away to make room for a serene and calm ending. I love how English anthems often tell an entire story, and director Rintje te Wies really knew how to treat each section of the story with the right emphasis and build-up. I immediately thought of the time I heard the Choir of Westminster Abbey sing Elgar’s anthem Great is the Lord where director James O’Donnell employed the same sense of narrative and word-painting, so well written by Elgar.

The final prayers also included a moving poem by John Donne, which I first heard in another Evensong at the Nicolaas church. The poem speaks of a home of eternal rest and a glimpse of that heavenly vision was shared in the sights and sounds of the Evensong. Then Sytze de Vries really let the pipes blow to support the congregational singing of closing hymn Strong Son of God, immortal Love and treated us to an exuberant voluntary, always a privilege to hear.

At the exit two young choristers collected donations which was nice to see – being able to contribute directly to their wonderful efforts.
And now I’m already looking forward to their next apearance, in two weeks’ time at the St. Bavo church in Haarlem with its amazing organ!

Evensong for the Eve of the 4th Sunday after Trinity
Introit: Lord, for thy tender mercy’s sake (John Hilton; text: Christian Prayers and Holy Meditations, 1568)
Preces: John Sanders
Office Hymn: O lux beata Trinitas (Sarum Plainchant)
Psalm 80
Canticles: Service in D (Herbert Brewer)
Responses after the Creed: John Sanders
Anthem: They that go down to the sea in ships
Closing Hymn: Strong Son of God, immortal Love

A choral London Sunday in May

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.

Evensong Roden Boys Choir on Sunday Gaudete

What better way to celebrate Sunday Gaudete than by treating yourself to a wonderful Evensong by your favourite Dutch choir? Sunday Gaudete is the 3rd Sunday of Advent, a joyful look towards Christmas in what is still a period of waiting. In a darkened, quiet and a little chilly Laurenskerk in Rotterdam three candles were burning under the towering Marcussen organ, and two modest choir stalls were placed in front of that. A quiet, hushed mood was prevalent as the people slowly filled the seats. Earlier that afternoon, the Roden Boys Choir had sung in a performance of Benjamin Britten’s A Boy Was Born in Amsterdam and despite a significant delay as a result of that, they had just finished rehearsing (already looking sharp in their black suits) as the church doors were opened.

The Laurenskerk is a huge, impressive church, with many colourful details for those who, like me, tend to wander around with a camera before taking their place to study the program and get into the appropriate mood for Evensong. Final touches were made as the candles were lit while someone else ran to the car to get the robe which music director Rintje te Wies had absent-mindedly left there. No sign of any hurriedness though as the Introit by Bird was begun. A reverent atmosphere descended as the polyphony filled the space. The procession revealed a tired face here or there, but the choir, perhaps a tad more tense due to the day’s hectic schedule, retained its truly remarkable concentration while singing. Especially the trebles at the Cantoris side sang with unfailing focus.

I loved hearing the setting of Psalm 80 which reminds me I listen to Anglican psalm chant far too rarely than I would like. I was struck by the metaphor of water, as described in the imagery of rivers and seas in this psalm, a theme which was to occur throughout the entire service, as the pastor vividly pictured a desert spring after the first rain. For some reason this imagery of water in Biblical terms is something I always have a special feeling for, and it felt reassuring to experience it again today. By the way, the pastor delivered his reading and short sermon from a lectern clad in beautiful pink, especially for today, and wore a matching stole 🙂

The Evening Service that was sung was the one the choir’s organist Sietze de Vries wrote himself. The Magnificat has a wonderfully lovely final part with a splendid solo by new ‘star’ Ischi Magna, set to the words “He hath filled the hungry with good things”. I had hoped to hear this chorister sing a solo and was not disappointed. Not only does he have a very gentle and pleasant round voice, the way he delivers his solo with such ease and grace, blending perfectly in the whole, not showing any sign of self-consciousness, is very touching to witness. The same can be said of some moments when the choir gave very convincing starts of a new vocal line – the sheer confidence with which their vocal force was delivered tells tales of the commitment and love of music of everyone involved, from the choristers to the music director to the organist to all the parents and people in the organisation.

As lovely and tender as the Magnificat ended, so glorious and powerful was the ending of the Nunc dimittis. Such strength in that single word “glory”, and the drama of it was aptly visualised by Rintje te Wies, who conducts with such command and artistry that it was sometimes more than enough to just look at him to see what the words of that particular piece conveyed.
The church’s acoustics helped a lot tonight too. I was moved near to tears by the way bass Jan Vonk delivered the Collects. It was one of the shortest and cheapest flights to a British cathedral I ever had the privilege to take.

To my feeling, the Evensong was over before I had noticed it and perhaps the Anthem, despite its graceful flowing lines, could have been a bit better (and, dare I say it, craving as I am, longer) but to be honest, complaints are out of place. On a final note, I applaud both the choir and their organist, who my boyfriend suspected of throwing in an improvisation of several Advent hymns as organ voluntary (which I just had to tap my foot to, it was that contagious).

Sunday Gaudete – I think expectation of a feast rarely felt this festive already.

Evensong for the 3rd Sunday of Advent (Gaudete)
Introit: Gloria tibi Domine (Byrd)
Processional Hymn: The advent of our God (Coffin; New Universal Psalmodist, 1770)
Preces (Reading)
Psalm 80 (Atkins)
Evening Service: Roden Service (Sietze de Vries)
Responses (Reading)
The Lord’s Prayer (Stone)
Anthem: O Thou the Central Orb (Wood)
Hymn: Veni Redemptor gentium
Organ voluntary (improvisation Sietze de Vries?)

Peaceful Evensong

While some 7,000 people were making their way to Alexandra Palace in London for a nice singalong, I attended a peaceful Evensong at the Janskerk in Utrecht by the Schola Davidica. A mixed adult choir in deep red robes, led by Lisette Bernt and accompanied on organ by Jan Hage (whose improvisation at the beginning reminded me of Mike Oldfield!). As last Sunday marked the end of international Peace Week, the Introit was Verleih’ uns Frieden by Heinrich Schütz, a setting of words by Martin Luther. The processional hymn was an interesting one: a canon in German (Herr, bleibe bei uns). Musical director Lisette Bernt conducted the congregation in her own particular way – all through the Evensong I often noticed some hand movements imitating a fluttering butterfly.

The Schola has a strong, broad sound, which can be impressive at times. Some of the Amens of the Collects (by Humphrey Clucas) were simply glorious. Unfortunately I didn’t think the pronunciation was always great, and in the Psalms I thought they were wavering at times, which is odd as the singing of the Psalms is the main activity of the Schola. Nevertheless, the first Psalm, nr. 86, sung on monastic tone, really grabbed me from the start and got me into a prayerful mood. I was glad for that because, to me, Evensongs tend to feel more like mini-concerts than prayer services, and I sometimes think that’s a pity (although it’s hard to listen to a top class choir and not just marvel at the singing and forget everything else ;)).

The Canticles by Whitlock were very colourful and had a robust doxology (the ‘Glory be to the Father…’ part). I remember some nice word painting, for instance in the Magnificat: “He hath shewed strength with his arm” where the men joined in again and the writing became more dramatic. The Anthem was When David heard by Thomas Weelkes, a stirring, solemn piece, the solemnity of which continued in the closing hymn, Saviour, again to thy dear name we raise by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

It’s good to see the Choral Evensong tradition carried out so close to home, even though services like this make me long for the real thing overseas. The passion of the Schola is obvious, and they took great care to come up with a solid programme. The liturgy booklet had their full year programme until June 2012 at the back and it definitely looks promising.

Introit: Verleih’ uns Frieden (Schütz)
Processional hymn: Herr, bleibe bei uns (Thate)
Preces (Clucas)
Psalms: 86 (monastic tone) & 23 (Oost)
Canticles (Whitlock)
Responses and Collects (Clucas)
Anthem: When David heard (Weelkes)
Closing hymn: Saviour, again to thy dear name we raise (Vaughan Williams)
Organ voluntary (unknown)

Elegant Evensong by assorted Anglicans

You know you’re fanatical about Evensong when you’re prepared to travel at least two hours for a service that lasts only one. This evening I attended Evensong at the wonderful St. Bavo church in Haarlem, sung by the Anglican Singers from Amsterdam and the choirs of the Anglican Church Haarlem. Most of them sung together recently in Ely Cathedral and two of them I know from the St. Nicholas Chorale in Amsterdam. Does that still make sense, dear reader? If it doesn’t, don’t worry – the same puzzling effect of assorted Anglicans was created by all the different colours of robes and medals. For one thing, this patchwork-like variety didn’t show in the choir sound, which was homogenous and confident and had a nice clear pronunciation. The repertoire was very elegant, with no real highlights, except maybe the ethereal Introit by Jackson or the Response “and take not thy Holy Spirit from us” which had some lovely dissonances, colouring the despair behind this pleading phrase. The famous Müller organ once again stole my heart, especially the high flute-like sounds. You have to hear it to believe it (the same goes for the sometimes glorious echo of the church).

Oh yes, and we got to sing two very nice hymns: O Worship the King, which has a melody I know really well, and How Shall I Sing that Majesty which I know in a completely different version by Libera – so I had to reacquaint myself with the tune but most of the words were overly familiar. So it was great to be able to sing them in an actual service, amidst a strong and enthusiastic congregation, I might add (maybe they were regulars at the protestant St. Bavo church, and therefore more used to congregational singing, who knows).

I have a hunch this was not the last time I made the trip north, and hopefully also not the last time my journey was accompanied by such spectacular clouds and a blazing sunset.

Introit: Justorum animae (Gabriel Jackson)
Procession hymn: O Worship the King (NEH 433)
Preces (Michael Walsh)
Psalm 136 (Jonathan Bielby)
Canticles: Evening Service in E minor (William S. Lloyd Webber)
Lesser Litany, Lord’s Prayer, Collects (Michael Walsh)
Anthems: Christ whose glory fills the skies (Harold Darke) & Litany to the Holy Spirit (Peter Hurford)
Closing hymn: How Shall I Sing that Majesty (NEH 699/373)
Organ voluntary: Voluntary in A minor for Double Organ (William Croft)

Conductor: Martin van Bleek
Organ: James Pollard