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Magnificat! Settings of the Evening Canticles
Choir of the Cathedral Church of the Nativity
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Russell Jackson, Organist & Choirmaster - [OAR-730]
$15.98

Organ Solos:
JONGEN: Choral (from Quatre Pièces)
DURUFLÉ: Prélude et Fugue sur le nom d’Alain

Choir & Organ:
T. TERTIUS NOBLE: Magnificat & Nunc dimittis in B minor
GEORGE DYSON: Magnificat & Nunc dimittis in D
HERBERT SUMSION: Magnificat & Nunc dimittis in G
CHARLES V. STANFORD: Magnificat & Nunc dimittis in C
BASIL HARWOOD: Magnificat & Nunc dimittis in A-flat
HAROLD W. FRIEDELL: Magnificat & Nunc dimittis in F

The Choir
The Choir of the Cathedral Church of the Nativity is comprised of thirty volunteer singers from every walk of life. Its members are American, Hispanic, Japanese, German and English; it includes denominations outside of the Episcopal Church, namely Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Buddhist, Lutheran and Methodist. It is, above all, an amateur choir. That is not to denigrate the efforts of its members or to make excuses for them, but to stress that what each person gives is offered because they love what they do. In addition to the regular round of services centered on the Anglican choral tradition, the choir provides music for all diocesan events happening at the cathedral. They also perform in concerts and further afield at other institutions and with other choirs. The Cathedral Choir has made three tours to the United Kingdom and has sung as Choir-in-Residence at Rochester Cathedral (1997), Exeter Cathedral (2000) and York Minster (2003). This CD is the choir’s first professional recording.

The Magnificat & Nunc dimittis
Choral Evensong is a product of Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer, exemplified in the most beautiful and complete version of 1662. The Evening Canticles themselves are the Song of Mary (from the Office of Vespers) and the Song of Simeon (from the Office of Compline), these being Offices of the Hours from the monastic tradition. By combining these services, one of the driving forces of the Anglican Choral Tradition was born through a need to provide different settings for daily worship in the Reformation. Where the monastic community had originally sung these offices to plainsong, the new foundation replaced the monks with lay-clerks, and boys singing the treble line.
The texts of these canticles lend themselves to word painting and colorful writing. The Magnificat begins with four verses describing Mary’s reaction to the news that she will bear God, and then goes on to show His love and justice for all people. Above all this is an exclamation of joy – amazing, intense and totally accepting. Later on in the Gospel we learn of the other Mary (the Magdalen) who witnesses the return to life of Jesus and mirrors this same ecstatic reaction. As balance is the key to living, the young female who sings of the beginning of life is reflected by the old male who prays for the end of his own. The Nunc dimittis is Simeon’s poignant plea to God in response to the Holy Spirit’s revelation to Simeon that he would not die until he witnessed the presentation of God’s Son. When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple, Simeon took Him in his arms, blessed God, and said, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.”

The Composers of Settings
Thomas Tertius Noble provides a great link between the Anglican choral tradition and its maintenance in the Episcopal Church of America. Having composed his famous setting in B minor whilst organist of York Minster, he came to New York to be organist of St. Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue. It was here that he revised this setting, and it is the New York version that we sing. Interestingly, on one of our UK tours we sang this version at Evensong, and at the end of the service one of the lay-clerks practically vaulted over the stalls to grab the copy out of my hand and see for himself what we had just sung.
“Dyson in D” is often referred to as “Dicing with death.” This is one of the blockbuster settings and is usually reserved for a Saturday when the choir gets to show its paces and the music isn’t constrained through the inclusion of a sermon, as on a Sunday. This setting maintains a high tessitura with plenty of A’s and at one point gives the sopranos, and everyone else, quite a thrill with an unexpected top B flat.
Herbert Sumsion was organist of Gloucester Cathedral, which has one of the smoothest, most even and perfect acoustics in the world. In these canticles he writes in a soaring, canonical style that uses the building without ever muddying the musical effect. The Nunc is strongly reminiscent of Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances (or Kismet.)
The great Irish composer, Charles Villiers Stanford, is noted for his tremendous contribution of service music and fine anthems to the Anglican choral tradition. He wrote settings for Matins including the famous Te Deum in B-flat, and Evensong canticles in the keys of G, A, B-flat and C. All of them received differing styles and treatments, and the one we hear now is probably his most popular in the grandiose and glittering key of C.
Of equal fame to his setting of the evening canticles in A-flat is Harwood’s All Saints’ tide anthem, O how glorious is the kingdom. Basil Harwood was also noted for two other achievements, one being rganist of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, and the other being a treatise he wrote on machine-gun assembly.
Harold Friedell’s compositions remain influential in the Episcopal Church to this day. His style was often beautiful and lush, and most choirs know his gorgeous anthem, Draw us in the Spirit’s tether, written during his years at St. Bartholomew’s, New York City. His Magnificat in F is quite something of a contrast, both dynamic and exhilarating, music that makes you want to jump up and run around. Then follows the Nunc which is mellifluous, gentle, introspective and deeply moving. Dr. Friedell died during a snowstorm in 1958; he could have written the Nunc for himself.

The Composers of the Organ Works
The great Belgian composer Joseph Jongen was born in Liège, studied at the conservatory and later became a professor there. Known for his organ and orchestral compositions, especially the Symphonie Concertante, this Choral from Quatre Pièces is a simple but totally overwhelming crescendo in the form of a canon.
The post-romantic master Maurice Duruflé composed as a work of devotion Prélude et Fugue sur le nom d’Alain as homage to Jehan Alain, a young and brilliant French composer lost to war at the age of 29. Duruflé composed a world class masterpiece in the form of his Requiem, and the very nature and influences in this piece are present in the Prelude and Fugue that takes Alain’s name and converts the letters into musical notation: ALAIN = ADAAF. This is music of the most personal and intimate character. At the end of the Prelude, the music comes to a halt and then an inverted chord waits while the Duruflé theme magically transforms itself into a direct quote from Alain’s most famous work, his Litanies. The Fugue begins its noble theme like a mother bearing up during her son’s funeral, and it moves inexorably toward an anguished yet vindicated conclusion; all the bells of heaven ring out a vast and jubilant welcome.

<I>Magnificat!</I> Settings of the Evening Canticles<BR>Choir of the Cathedral Church of the Nativity<BR>Bethlehem, Pennsylvania<BR>Russell Jackson, Organist & Choirmaster
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