Give Unto The Lord

Give Unto The Lord Cover Picture

Lichfield Cathedral Choir

Director: Andrew Lumsden

Organ: Robert Sharpe

Sing praise to God Richard Lloyd
Prevent us, O Lord William Byrd
Bring us, O Lord God William Harris
Psalm 23 The Lord is my Shepherd chant by Walford Davies
Greater love John Ireland
Geistliches Lied Las dich nur nichts Johannes Brahms
Organ Solo: Final from Evocation Marcel Dupré
Locus iste Anton Bruckner
Give unto the Lord Edward Elgar
Thou wilt keep him Samuel Sebastian Wesley
Lord, let me know mine end Maurice Greene
Venite comedite Robert Sharpe
Te Deum in F John Ireland
Total playing time 66m 54s

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Give Unto The Lord

Our celebration of anthems begins with a setting of the 17th century hymn Sing praise to God by Richard Lloyd, who started his musical training as a chorister at Lichfield Cathedral before becoming organist at Hereford and Durham Cathedrals. The first verse, sung by the trebles, leads into a more reflective second verse in three parts before the tune of the first verse returns for the tenors and basses and is crowned with a glorious descant. On his visits to Lichfield, the composer has often given permission for a fourth (tenor) part to be added to the middle verse. The fact that it is very difficult to add a singable line to the texture is a great credit to the clever writing. Richard dedicated the piece to his Headmaster at Lichfield, Prebendary EEF Walters (whose son, also a contemporary of Richard's, is the current Headmaster) 'on attaining three score years and ten'.

One of the most beautiful prayers in the English language, Prevent us, O Lord is often attributed to Thomas Cranmer, though it is, in fact, his translation of an ancient prayer from the Gregorian Sacramentary, a collection of prayers used alongside the Missals and Lectionaries. William Byrd's five-part setting matches the beauty of the words with some mellifluous lines for all the singers, particularly the two alto parts.

William Harris was, for a short time, Assistant Organist at Lichfield before moving on to the Royal College of Music and St George's Chapel, Windsor. Although he never gained the recognition of his contemporary Herbert Howells, his music is of sublime beauty as can be heard in this double-choir setting of Bring us, O Lord God, the words of which are taken from a sermon by the 17th century Dean of St Paul's Cathedral and poet John Donne. Harris paints such words as 'dazzling' and 'glory' to great effect, though the most extraordinary moment is left to the very end when he returns the music to the home key of D flat major with a spectacular but effortless jolt.

For all Cathedral Choirs, the singing of the psalms is the most common occupation. They are difficult to perform well and, for both performers and worshippers, they are the most important and moving parts of any service. There are many and varied settings of Psalm 23; this simple double chant by Walford Davies, former Organist of the Temple Church, is one of the most beautiful.

Greater love hath no man has become part of almost every choir's repertoire. Its popularity stems from the simpleness and directness of John Ireland's setting, though some now regard the piece, with its overtones of war, as jingoistic. After a gentle opening, the piece builds to its most poignant moment when the organ suddenly stops and the choir sings 'that a man lay down his life for his friends'. After a treble and baritone solo, the pace increases until a large choral chord displays the 'marvellous light', only then to be topped by a darker diminished chord on full organ. The piece is then drawn to an ethereal close.

Johannes Brahms is more famous for his orchestral works, though there are a surprisingly large number of choral pieces. Geistliches Lied (or Spiritual Song) is a setting of words by the 17th century German author Paul Flemming and the feeling of hope in the words is admirably echoed in some of Brahms' most sublime music. It is worth noting that this work is also a masterpiece of compositional technique in the use of the canon - where one part sings exactly the same music as another part but at a different time (in this case four beats later than the first part) and at a different pitch (here he chooses one of the most difficult intervals, a ninth). To make matters more complex, this piece is actually a double canon, so, whilst you will hear the trebles and tenors sing their own canon, the altos and basses are singing one with some quite different notes. The fact that this work seems so unlike a mere technical exercise is a sign of Brahms' genius. The Amen must rank as one of the most spine-tingling moments of church music when the trebles and tenors have an arching phrase which soars through the texture.

Marcel Dupré was, for many years, Organist of St Sulpice in Paris and counted Messiaen amongst his pupils. He was well-known for his prodigious technique as is particularly evident in his compositions, which are mostly of Lisztian virtuosity. He wrote several symphonic poems for organ, including Evocation, and the Final tests both organ and player to the limit. Whilst the louder sections show the full range of the organ's power, the two gentler sections, with music taken from the earlier movements, show off the strings, flutes and softer reeds, including the nasal Vox Humana. The second of these sections is particularly taxing, as the organist has to play four-note chords with his feet!

Like Brahms, Anton Bruckner is mostly famous for his epic orchestral music. However he was primarily an organist and teacher and wrote several important choral compositions, including masses and a large scale Te Deum. Many of his motets have become firm favourites of any Cathedral repertoire and Locus iste, a gradual for the Dedication of a Church, is one of the more simple ones. As in all his church music, Bruckner uses silence to great effect, probably because of the large acoustic at Linz Cathedral, where he was organist in the mid 19th century.

The centre piece of our disc is Edward Elgar's large-scale anthem, Give unto the Lord. This setting of Psalm 29 was written for the Sons of the Clergy Festival at St Paul's Cathedral on April 30 1914 and is dedicated to the then Organist there, 'my friend Sir George Martin'. This piece is Elgar at his most Elgarian, with some superb melodies (not dissimilar to the structure of some of Bruckner's) and rich textures, full of colour and 'glory'. The rollercoaster ride at such moments as 'breaking the cedars', the 'God of glory thundereth' with the organ's massive 32' reed and the use of open fifths, the 'barest' of all intervals, is then set against the stillness and serene calm of the central section 'In His temple' before the opening returns in a blaze of glory and the piece winds down to a true 'blessing of peace'. The organ part, as with all orchestral transcriptions, is extremely challenging not only in technique but in the need to keep as many of the original orchestral colours as feasibly possible.

In complete contrast, Thou wilt keep him is a gentle setting of words taken from several Biblical sources. SS Wesley was the greatest composer in the English cathedral tradition between Purcell and Stanford and, despite his abrasive personality and outspoken views on the defects of cathedral music conditions, was Organist at Hereford, Exeter, Winchester and Gloucester Cathedrals as well as Leeds Parish Church. His musical output was almost entirely devoted to church music and it remains the staple diet of many choirs throughout the country.

Maurice Greene held the posts of Organist at St Paul's Cathedral, Organist and Composer to the Chapel Royal and Master of the King's Musick at the same time! A prolific composer of many genres, he is best remembered for his church music and especially for his setting of words from Psalm 39, Lord, let me know mine end. The continuous movement of the organ pedal part has been likened to both a person's heartbeat and mankind's inevitable journey towards death. Whatever it may signify, the constant feeling of motion contrasts with the more static but still linear choral parts. Of particular note is the treble soloists' duet where, at the end, one part piles on top of the other, building up the tension for the words 'who shall gather them'. On a lighter note it has been known, in various establishments, for some of the performers to act out the final words by gently lowering themselves below the music desks!

The motet Venite comedite is a setting of an invitation to communion from the Votive Mass of the Blessed Sacrament. Written by the current Assistant Organist of the Cathedral and dedicated to the Cathedral Choir, the piece is full of rich harmonies and calls for some low basses (bottom b's). It has quickly become a firm favourite with the Cathedral congregation.

In many ways, there can be no better way to end this disc than with the great Song of the Church, the Te Deum, and particularly in the majestic setting from the Service in F by John Ireland. A beautifully proportioned piece, it is a paean of praise with sweeping melodies which are not only uplifting to listen to but also glorious to sing. Ireland manages to change between the contrasting moods with great ease and, incredibly, with hardly any change of tempo. Concluding with a resounding choral unison and four chords building to full organ, there can be fewer more moving ways to 'sing praise to God'.
Andrew Lumsden, February 1998

Lichfield Cathedral Choir

The first Cathedral at Lichfield was built in 700 AD to receive the body of St Chad (Bishop of the ancient Kingdom of Mercia 669-672). This Saxon wood and stone building was replaced by a stone Norman Cathedral in the 12th century and this, in turn, by the magnificent Gothic building of the 13th century. The pressure of mediaeval works caused some extra development at the East End, notably to accommodate an ornate shrine for St Chad in the Retro-Choir. Although the Reformation and the Civil War (1640s) caused some damage, skilful restoration in the 1660s, and especially by Gilbert Scott in the 19th century, preserved this mediaeval masterpiece as a centre for worship and pilgrimage to the present day.

The Cathedral Choir currently consists of 18 choristers, 9 Vicars Choral and 3 Choral Scholars and its primary role is to sing the daily round of services - the OPUS DEI. The Choristers, who come from all over the country, are educated at the Cathedral School, within the Close. The Gentlemen embrace a wide variety of professions. In addition to their Cathedral duties, the Choir undertakes outside engagements, which have included concerts with Sir Simon Rattle and the CBSO, a televised concert of Christmas Music with Dame Kiri te Kanawa and regular appearances on radio and television, including a highly-acclaimed Midnight Mass televised live by the BBC in 1995. The Choir has also toured the USA, Germany and France and has sung at a Papal Audience in Rome and at the British Embassy in Paris.

Andrew Lumsden

Born in 1962, Andrew Lumsden was educated at Winchester College, The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and was pre-elected as Organ Scholar at St John's College, Cambridge before taking up posts as Assistant Organist at Southwark Cathedral and Sub-Organist at Westminster Abbey, where he played the organ for several national occasions including the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and memorial services for Lord Olivier and Dame Peggy Ashcroft. He took up his present appointment as Organist and Master of the Choristers at Lichfield Cathedral in 1992 and has broadcast, toured and recorded regularly with the choir. As a recitalist he has given recitals in places as diverse as Sydney, San Francisco and Harare and has also appeared with the English National Opera. He was one of the youngest recitalists ever to have broadcast on Radio 3 (at the age of 17) and is in regular demand both as recitalist and accompanist.

Robert Sharpe

Robert Sharpe was born in Lincoln in 1971. He was pre-elected to the Parry-Wood Organ Scholarship at Exeter College, Oxford in 1989 and spent the following year as Organ Scholar at St Alban's Abbey, working with Dr Barry Rose. At Exeter College, he directed the Chapel Choir and was involved in several tours with them, both as accompanist and director. He came to Lichfield as Assistant Organist in 1994 and, in addition to his work there, he is Organ Tutor at Shrewsbury School, Music Coach to the CBSO Junior Chorus and accompanist to the Birmingham Bach Choir.

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The Choir and Lammas Records gratefully acknowledge the financial support for this recording given by the Lichfield Cathedral Bookshop.

Recorded on 9th, 10th and 12th February 1998

Produced by Paul Spicer
Recorded and edited by Lance Andrews
Photograph by Newbery Smith Photography