Our first engagement of the Trinity term has taken us today to Sherborne for a Choral Evensong as part of the 2003 Sherborne Festival, joining forces with their Abbey Choir and the Choir of Christchurch Priory. The service was a return visit following a very successful service this time last year.

Jeffrey Williams and Andrew Post, organist of Christchurch Priory, spoke for all members of the visiting choirs in complementing their hosts at Sherborne Abbey on the visual transformation that has taken place since then. Scaffolding errected for a major programme of interior cleaning and renovation has been removed, revealing the richness of the decoration at the east, complementing the ornate fan-vaulted ceiling for which the Abbey is justly renowned. It was equally heartening to learn that the Choir of Sherborne Abbey is similarly being revitalised under the leadership of their new Organist, Joseph Sentance, with the recruitment of a number of new trebles during the last year.

Combining three choirs in a Service with limited rehearsal time beforehand is never an easy task but Jeffrey, Andrew and Joseph – each with their different conducting styles – all carried it off with aplomb. After a welcome from the Vicar of Sherborne, Canon Eric Woods, Jeffrey conducted the choirs through the opening Responses in the setting by Bernard Rose and then Psalm 148, in which contrasts of dynamics were brought out to lend tonal variety to the text.

In the canticles, sung to the setting by Herbert Murrill in E, the choir both renderedthe staccato chords in the Magnificat at ‘He hath scattered the proud’ with obvious relish and invested the unaccompanied section beginning ‘He remembering his mercy’ with tenderness. The Nunc Dimittis similarly swelled from a quiet opening to a blazing climax at the words ‘And to be the glory’, going on to conclude with an exhilarating Gloria.

Particular mention must be made of the treble from Sherborne Abbey who performed the solo in Samuel Sebastian Wesley’s much-loved anthem Blessed be the God and Father. He grew in confidence and led the full chorus of boys very effectively through the ‘Love one another with a pure heart’ section. The concluding passage, with its fugal entries on ‘But the word of the Lord endureth forever’, brought it to a rousing conclusion.

The packed congregation was able to join in three rousing hymns, Ye choirs of new Jerusalem, Lord enthroned in Heavenly splendour and, to round off the service in style, Thine be the Glory, from Handel’s oratorio Judas Maccabeus. Choirs and clergy were then led outside onto the green for the final dismissal and a photograph (below) to mark the occasion. Tea was once again generously provided after the service by Sherborne Abbey.

We are now looking forward to a possible return visit by the choirs of Christchurch and Sherborne to Romsey in the Autumn.

The Choirs of Romsey Abbey, Sherborne Abbey and Christchurch Priory gathered outside Sherborne Abbey