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Vaughan Williams, Campkin, Parry

Seen from the suspension bridge on a lovely autumn evening, the lights of All Saints, Marlow, reflect magically on the Thames.

Inside the church, the singing was equally magical: an a cappella programme of three substantial works, including a genuine world premiere. In the absence of MD Elizabeth Croft (who was on maternity leave), the concert was conducted by the inspirational Robert Jones, a very distinguished musician and established friend of the choir. Vaughan Williams’s Mass in G Minor is a heartfelt plea for peace. Written within a year or two of the First World War (in which the composer served), it also mirrors the rich ‘mediaeval’ effects of Vaughan Williams’s famous pre-war Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis. Robert Jones led a beautiful, shimmering performance in a work particularly demanding for singers because of the sustained pianissimo often required for just this reflective, spiritual effect. He also chose to punctuate the movement—as if to simulate the breaks that would occur during a liturgical use of the mass—with two contrasting Vaughan Williams organ preludes.

The choir was thrilled to give the world premiere of Alexander Campkin’s Waterfall—with the composer present! An already rising and acclaimed young Composer, Alex wrote this specially commissioned piece as a personal reflection on the Vaughan Williams Mass, a work he has long loved. Now officially our Composer in Residence, he was kind enough to introduce the work with a fascinating talk about its inspiration: how the theme of flowing water developed from his window on the Thames in London, his consciousness of the venue by the Thames in Marlow, and from his chosen text, Water-Fall, by the C17th ‘metaphysical’ poet Henry Vaughan. In Jones’s hands, the performance was a wonderful experience; we felt so privileged to establish Waterfall in the English choral repertoire with—by all accounts—some really gorgeous singing…
…which then persisted into the Parry Songs of Farewell, a cycle the choir had never previously sung in its entirely. It was a joy to do so—the six deeply questing and meditative songs are quite extraordinary, both to perform and to hear. Once again, and most interestingly, the individual items were intercut, as for the Mass, with organ preludes (Parry) played by the conductor. To sum up: glorious music for a glorious evening!