Tonight is the eve of the feast of Ascension Day, so today’s broadcast of Choral Evensong explored this theme, coming from Lincoln Cathedral.
The anthem was Patrick Gowers‘ Viri Galilaei, and regular readers of this blog will know of my love for this piece, having written about it on a number of occasions. It’s a superlative work, beginning shrouded in mystery and obscurity (and listen out for what sounds like the use of a highly appropriate zimbelstern stop tinkling away above the voices); at the first, rather soft, mention of the word “Alleluia”, the whole tone of the anthem shifts, quickly building up to a coruscating series of loud Alleluias from the whole choir. A toccata paves the way for the work’s climax, a vast but brisk chorale punctuated at each cadence with further Alleluias—it’s difficult to listen without tears forming, joy is etched into every note of this piece. The choir performs this challenging piece superbly, clearly enjoying themselves, as well they should; it’s pleasing to see that Gowers’ anthem has finally supplanted (or, at least, provided an alternative to) Finzi’s over-performed God is gone up.
The voluntary was Messiaen‘s well-known ‘Transports de joie’, from his organ suite L’Ascension. So much of Messiaen’s music still sounds as fresh as when it was first written; ‘Transports de joie’, certainly, must have been a shock and a revelation when first composed in 1934; it makes for a brilliant conclusion to a truly wonderful evensong from Lincoln Cathedral.