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The Month's Music

The Crystal Ball

Music for May 2022

In the middle of our Easter celebrations, we had a personal event to celebrate, as our friend Vivian Anthony marked 75 years as a chorister on 1 May. Welsh hymns are a given for such an occasion, but we also had two of his favourite anthems: William Byrd’s ecstatic Haec dies (‘This is the day’), with its dancing rhythms and joyful Alleluias, as the introit, and, as a special treat before the Peace, S. S. Wesley’s powerful large-scale anthem (or miniature cantata) Blessed be the God and Father. As neither of these is suitable for a communion anthem, that function was performed by Mozart’s well-loved Ave verum corpus.

            Passing swiftly over another outing for Howard Goodall’s Vicar of Dibley setting of an eclectic version of Psalm 23 on 8 May, and a repeat of Tallis’s If ye love me on 15 May, when Andrew Forbes will conduct a somewhat reduced choir in the absence of our director of music and certain other singers, we come next to Choral Evensong on 22 May. This will include (in addition to the ’Dresden Amen’ responses by John Sanders and the vigorous setting in D of the canticles by Brewer) two items new to us, which are drawn from the RSCM’s collection of music for HM the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee: a 16th-century setting of the Compline respond In pace, alternating graceful polyphony and plainsong, by John Blitheman, and a new commission from the contemporary composer Thomas Hewitt-Jones, In our service, setting a text based on words from speeches by Her Majesty. The setting falls into four ‘verses’: a unison melody in a warm F major is followed by the same melody harmonised; a different melody in a related key is harmonised in the third verse, and the final verse returns to the original melody but in the brighter key of G and with a descant, ending with a triumphant unison phrase and organ fanfare.

            Ascension Day falls on Thursday 26 May, and there will be the customary Sung Eucharist that evening, at which we shall sing Martin How’s familiar arrangement of a German melody to the words Fairest Lord Jesus. And finally, on 29 May, we have Charles Wood’s striking setting of God omnipotent reigneth (a paraphrase of Psalm 93) based on a sixteenth-century melody, in which an austerely harmonised first verse depicting the majesty of God is followed by a graphic illustration of ‘Ocean billow and breaker’ attempting to rival that majesty; or, as Coverdale puts it, ‘The waves of the sea are mighty, and rage horribly : but yet the Lord, who dwelleth on high, is mightier.’