It’s been a while since i’ve featured Choral Evensong on here; they really haven’t been terribly interesting of late. However, today’s service of Choral Evening Prayer took place during the annual Exon Singers Festival from Buckfast Abbey in Devon. Buckfast is a place close to my heart; i’ve been there a number of times, and it’s a sublime, gorgeous place, with spacious gardens populated by a plethora of types of lavender, and its shop selling monastic goods from around the world, including the renowned and highly-charged liqueur Chartreuse. A thriving monastery, it’s not surprising that the worship from Buckfast should be measured and thoughtful, offered with the greatest of care, making it a dual delight for the listener, both in terms of style and content.
Focus of the service was on composer Philip Moore, former director of music of York Minster. His anthem All wisdom cometh from the Lord is an exercise in jaunty syncopations, but shot through with a potent dose of post-Howellsian austerity, preventing it from the saccharine jests of Mathias or Rutter. Despite its rhythmic sharp edges, Buckfast’s acoustic proves nicely accommodating, lending the music just enough reverberation to sound rich and full, without loss of clarity. The anthem culminates in an exquisitely lovely coda, its slow, liquid melodic strands hesitating on dissonances before resolving themselves and ending as one. Following the Abbot’s homily comes the Magnificat from Moore’s Third Service, a setting that takes plainsong as its starting point. In fact, for the first couple of phrases, it might be mistaken for plainsong, until the words “For behold from henceforth”, where the single line is pulled apart into many; it’s a startling and thrilling moment. Continuing in like fashion, alternating plain and decorated, Moore sensibly keeps the richer passages from moving into too chromatic waters; the contrast could well have been too great, and it’s another example of his wisdom as a church composer. Later in the service came the world première of Moore’s setting of the Salve Regina. It opens shrouded in close part-writing, antiphonal between upper and lower voices, before they are blended into a smooth homophonic series of phrases that carry a distinct air of awe and reverence, with restraint the watchword throughout.