There were times this past year when I wondered if we’d ever be able to sing together normally again. But with the lifting of restrictions on choral singing, the Choir's Cathedral Residency was able to proceed. As a result, twenty-eight of us gathered in Portsmouth Cathedral’s Song School on Thursday 29th July to fulfil the role of choir-in-residence for the weekend. I had to pinch myself to believe it!
And what a weekend it was! The thrill and excitement was palpable throughout, and the emotion we all felt lifting our voices together made me realise just how much the Choir means to us all, and how much we’ve all missed our singing and companionship.
With the masterful Harry Bradford at our helm and James Orford’s wonderful accompaniment on the piano – and later, the organ –
we came together to rehearse and refine the glorious choral music Harry and James had chosen for Friday and Saturday’s Evensong services, and Sunday’s Eucharist and Evensong.
It was a delight to welcome Alex Bowen-Brown, our TPC Bass Scholar, to the Choir and his glorious voice led the Plainsong Psalm 35 at Friday’s Evensong at which we sang Ayleward’s Responses, Orlando Gibbons’ Short Service and his anthem ‘Almighty and Everlasting God’.
We all gathered for a happy group supper at Gunwharf Quay with passing ferries and the Spinnaker Tower as our backdrop. Most of us stayed at Rees Hall, the University of Portsmouth’s halls of residence where the lovely Gertrude and her colleagues went out of their way to welcome and take care of us.
Saturday’s morning and afternoon rehearsals in the Song School and Cathedral prepared us for Evensong and Sunday’s services. Harry’s patient and ever positive leadership helped us with Radcliffe’s Responses, Psalm 46 (to a chant composed by James Orford), canticles by Brewer and the glorious Hymn for St Cecilia by Herbert Howells.
And so came Sunday Eucharist: Stanford’s Communion in C memorable as much for the exultation and tempo of the Gloria as it was for the gentle Sanctus with its wonderful closing Amen; the basses’ solo opening of the Benedictus ‘Blessed is he that cometh…’ and the sopranos' solo ‘O Lamb of God…’ of the Agnus Dei. Ralph Vaughan Williams’ anthem ‘O Taste and See’ was followed by an incredible performance of the Voluntary: Vierne’s Final (V) from Symphony No 4 in G minor, a massively powerful piece which, James told me, he plays best when angry. He clearly took the necessary action to achieve the emotion!
Sunday Evensong canticles by Wood in E flat No 2 and Balfour Gardner’s sublime Evening Hymn with its wonderful Amen brought to a fitting close a fabulous residency.
Thank you so much Harry and James – we are truly blessed to have you leading us. To Sylvia, Sue, Katy, and everyone involved in making this happen, thank you so much for your efforts. And thank you to the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral who were very welcoming and equally delighted to witness the return of sung worship to this ancient Cathedral of the Sea.
Until next year!