What the papers say

Recent article in the Romsey Advertiser on our visit to Chester

Chester Cathedral stands at the centre of one of Britain’s most ancient cities. Dedicated in Saxon times to St. Werburgh it became, like Romsey, a Benedictine Abbey. Following a period of extensive rebuilding, it eventually became the Cathedral of the newly-created Diocese of Chester after the Dissolution.

Worship has been offered in the cathedral for over 1,000 years and, as music is a very important way in which the Christian message is communicated, the Choir of Romsey Abbey was recently invited to provide the music and singing of the weekday evening services as well as the Sunday services for one week during August. It was joined by the Vicar of Romsey, Canon Neil Crawford-Jones, who acted as Precentor at the weekday Offices of Evensong and Choral Mattins on the Sunday.

Throughout the week, the Abbey Choir maintained the high standard of musical proficiency for which it is well known. The boy trebles in particular, ably led by the two head choristers, Stephen Brown and Sam Stollery, sang with flawless accuracy and sensitivity. The psalm singing was subtly expressive during the week, with meticulous attention to detail that perfectly captured the words of the psalmist.

The Abbey Choir frequently created a sound of rare beauty, as with Grayston Ives masterly anthem, O for a closer walk with God, and in the sonorous Like as the hart by Herbert Howells, sung at Wednesday’s Choral Evensong and accompanied by David Hewett, former chorister and now Organ Scholar at Romsey Abbey.

Richard Farrant’s Call to remembrance was exquisitely sung as the anthem for Thursday’s unaccompanied choral Evensong, whilst Bruckner’s Locus iste provided an evocative musical backdrop to the final Sunday Eucharist, celebrated in the Nave of the Cathedral before a large congregation that included many overseas tourists.

The Gentlemen of the Abbey Choir provided the music for Friday’s Choral Eucharist on the occasion of the feast of Bartholomew the Apostle. William Byrd’s Mass for three voices was the appropriate choice of music along with William Boyce’s buoyant setting of The Lord is King as the Offertory Motet.

The wide range of contrasting musical styles was exemplified over the final weekend with singing of the highest order at the four services. Charles Villiers Stanford’s thrilling Evening Service in C selected for Saturday afternoon’s Evensong, reverberated around the Cathedral’s magnificent fourteenth century Quire, whilst John Joubert’s powerful O Lorde the maker of al thinge – a setting a a prayer by Henry VIII – gave the choir an ideal opportunity to exploit the acoustic of the whole building to telling effect.

Sunday’s music included John Ireland’s Te Deum in F and George Oldroyd’s Prayer to Jesus at Mattins; the lively setting of the Evening Canticles in F by Peter Aston, together with Ernest Bullock’s anthem, Give us the wings of faith, brought the final Evensong to a magical conclusion. The Cathedral clergy were very appreciative and sincere in their praise for the hard work and extraordinarily high standard of the Abbey Choir and hoped for a speedy return to Chester in the near future.

The choir stayed at the Hammond School boarding house in Chester. Also staying at the school or in nearby accommodation were a number of family and friends of the Abbey Choir including former choristers and members of the Abbey congregation who made the two hundred mile trip up the M6 or by train.

Daily excursions to the surrounding area were once again admirably arranged and organised by Dick Hewett. Visits were made to the Clwydian mountain range, where the party walked a short stretch of the well-known Offa’s Dyke Path, a canal boat trip along the Llangollen Canal and over the impressive Pont Cysyllte aqueduct which crosses the River Dee, and an eight mile ride on the steam hauled Llangollen Railway amidst beautiful scenery.

The party were also given a tour of Jodrell Bank, site of the giant radio-telescope and its Planetarium. Closer to Chester, a visit was made to the Canal Museum at Ellesmere Port, whilst on the last full day the party walked around the unique walls encircling Chester itself, providing views of the City and the surrounding hills and Welsh mountains. Chester provided a fitting finale to another busy year for the Abbey Choir.

Preparations are now in hand for the return visit to Southwell Minster in the year 2002 whilst the new choir term at Romsey Abbey begins on Sunday, 2nd September when items from the Chester visit will be sung at the regular choral services.