2010 Diocesan Choirs Festival

DCF 2010 in St Albans Abbey

St Albans Abbey, Saturday 13th March 2010

The daffodils may have been slow to come into bloom this year, but that did not deter the three hundred or so choristers who travelled from throughout the Diocese to attend this year’s Diocesan Choirs Festival on Saturday 13th March in St Albans Abbey.

The singers had already been put through their paces at four regional rehearsals, ably directed by Christopher Muhley, with Roger Carter accompanying, and it showed; the overall sound was both cohesive and confident.

In a break with decades of tradition, the format was changed from Evensong to Choral Eucharist and this seemed to be adjudged a great success. The Eucharist is the central act of worship in many Anglican churches, and it is a treat to be able to share in this with representatives from so far and wide. Choral Eucharist in St Albans Abbey is celebrated using all the senses, including smell, and this may have come as rather a surprise to those who had not previously experienced incense. (If I wrote that many were incensed, I fear it might be taken the wrong way!)

The Mass setting was Missa Omnes Sancti, written by Malcolm Archer in a manner redolent of those great organist-composers who lived and practised in Paris at the beginning of the twentieth century. There were certainly more than a few passing nods to Louis Vierne, Gabriel Fauré and co. This was a setting on a truly grand scale, with the organ playing a major role; eminently suited to gothic spires, yet quite ‘doable’ with more modest resources at a local level, with writing that rarely exceeds four parts throughout.

Malcolm Archer also provided the chant to Psalm 34 which was sung as a Gradual. Among the hymns was Sing we of the blessèd Mother to the tune Abbot’s Leigh, with a last verse descant by John Wilson that appeared to require ‘Sat Nav’ to negotiate. I am sure I heard “you have reached your final destination” as the last D was sung.

Being the day before Mothering Sunday, a setting of the Magnificat was chosen as the anthem. This was taken from the four-part version of the Evening Canticles written in the key of D by Herbert Sumsion. A lovely, and very singable, alternative to the better-known settings by this prolific composer, this is well worth exploring as an option at a Parish, or maybe at a Deanery, level.

The last two years have seen a steady flow of entrants for the Area Dean’s and Bishop’s Award examinations, and a goodly number of successful candidates were present to receive their certificates from the Dean, The Very Reverend Dr Jeffrey John. During Communion, those successful candidates who were under 18 years of age joined with the Abbey Girls Choir to sing O mysterium ineffabile by J.F. Lallouette.

The Festival was conducted by Andrew Lucas, Master of the Music, with Tom Winpenny, Assistant Master of the Music, ably accompanying proceedings on the newly refurbished Harrison organ. Being a Eucharist, there were many opportunities for Tom to embellish proceedings with tasteful improvisations, and these he carried out with aplomb. Having perfect pitch comes in really useful too when – no matter what note was plucked out of the air by the President – he could instantly provide the response in an appropriate key. The final voluntary was Felix Mendelssohn’s Third Sonata for Organ, and this was an opportunity to hear the splendid reed stops on the Abbey organ in all their glory.

So, maybe no daffodils this year, but there was certainly a varied (and richly scented) musical bouquet on display at this year’s Diocesan Choirs Festival. Please take time to look at the photos that accompany this report, and also take the opportunity to give some feedback. This is extremely helpful when similar events are being planned in the future.

To hear some sound extracts from the event, click on the arrows below (next to the speaker icon). To increase/decrease volume, click on the speaker icon.

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Agnus Dei:

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Sanctus & Benedictus:

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*** Event reviewed by Andy Benoy ***

Some photos from the event © Chris Muhley
(Hover the mouse over a photo to pause the display)