Invitation to Music
St John’s Church, Bassenthwaite
28 July 2007
Concert-goers as well as church-goers will regret Rev Ian Wright's moving from Bassenthwaite, and assure him of a warm welcome whenever his many talents bring him back to the immediate locality.
Last Saturday Ian's membership of The Wordsworth Singers enabled him to put on a wonderful concert of choral and organ music to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Bernard Naylor. Born in 1907 on November 22nd (St. Cecilia's Day, like Benjamin Britten six years later), Naylor died in Bassenthwaite in 1986 at the home of Elizabeth Stern, organist of St John's.
Few of us will have known Naylor's music before this concert, and given the high standard of the choir itself and their inspiring conductor, James Grossmith, we could scarcely have had a better introduction.
Certainly, my own appetite was whetted, even if the first item, a Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, was tough going for the first-time listener. (For the choir too, I imagine, though the finished product was admirable). Dating from 1964, a time of musical experimentation, the structure of the setting is tightly-knit, exploring certain chords, imitation, and the whole-tone scale. It would assuredly repay study. Here, as elsewhere, James's spoken introduction was helpful and informative.
Other pieces, based on the metaphysical poets Crawshaw and Vaughan, and the 20th Century David Gascoyne, proved more direct in impact. Indeed there was both beauty and drama in the Tenebrae piece, It is finished – surely a most fitting alternative to Poulenc and the Renaissance composers for Holy Week.
Fittingly, Naylor's teachers, Holst, Ireland and Vaughan-Williams also figured in the programme. Vaughan-Williams's Let us now praise famous men, beautifully phrased at a well-judged tempo, gave an excellent start. The same composer's gift for melody was evident in Rhosymedre, the first of three organ solos played by Charles Harrison. The distinguished organist also accompanied the choir, making the small Bassenthwaite instrument sound (almost!) like that of Lincoln Cathedral in Ireland's Greater love. The last page was beautifully done with a pitch-perfect choir articulating the composer's quest for faith. Ireland's The Hills was also well done by the unaccompanied voices – 'calm and constant' as the poet asserts. So important here to phrase through the many rests, which are integral rather than terminal. Holst's Psalm 86 and Lennox Berkeley's Psalm 23 were movingly performed with expressive soloists.
Naylor had a strong Canadian connexion, and it was appropriate that Canadian-born contemporary composer Harold East was in the audience to hear his own music performed. Settings of Wordsworth's A slumber did my spirit seal and Yeats's He wishes for the cloths of heaven displayed a fresh and striking gift deployed with enviable economy: the same was true of a short organ piece. The Wordsworth song was dedicated to Joy and Maynard Hall, who do so much for music in Cumbria. Naylor's father Edward was the composer of the final piece Vox Dicentis – something of a Cathedral classic – which brought the concert to a resounding and satisfying conclusion. It had been a memorable evening, and stimulating too. High standards prevailed throughout.