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Music Fit For A Cathedral

1st of February 2012

Following on from October’s aclaimed recital of Mozart’s Requiem, the choir of St Paul’s Church, Chipperfield, and Holy Cross, Sarratt, performed the annual service of lessons and carols by candlelight, organised by locals David Gladstone and Laura Rose. The inspiration behind this performance was St Paul’s organist and choirmaster, Keith Beniston, distinguished academic and teacher and, as now well known, accomplished arranger and composer in his own right.

The church was packed when the service began with a touching and quiet arrangement of Away in a Manger for tenor accompanied by the choir; then the more usual processional Once in Royal David’s City, beginning with solo soprano after which the orchestra progressively joined in to reach a thrilling climax with full orchestra and organ. This set the pattern for the rest of the service, with both familiar and less well-known carols performed by the choir and orchestra, interspersed with Beniston orchestral arrangements both in the choir numbers and in carols for the congregation. The choir’s performances included O Thou that Tellest from The Messiah, with an accomplished performance of the mezzo soprano solo by Rosie Clifford, whose increasingly mature voice is always a highlight. The congregation’s contributions included Silent Night, in which Keith’s arrangement included fortissimo trumpet and horns. For the choir, the arrangement of Lullaby conjured up exotic sounds reminiscent of Mahler. The choir and orchestra also gave us Keith’s own composition, Born for All, not too readily singable but much enjoyed by the congregation.

The orchestra, though small, comprised strings, woodwind and brass and played to maximum effect in the generous acoustic of St Paul’s, particularly when playing together with John Wyatt on the church’s fine organ. But the special feature of the service, which puts St Paul’s in a class of its own, was the original orchestral accompaniments, which included elegant introductions and inter-verse passages. Everyone will recall the introduction to Parry’s setting of Jerusalem but to set a whole service in similar vein requires an expert in the craft. Long may St Paul’s provide a platform to attract such artistry and long may it be properly appreciated. It was music fit for a Cathedral.
John Uff

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