May 2023


on 13th May 2023 in St John’s Church, Clevedon

The special feature of our Spring Concert on 13th May 2023 was indicated by the title “Sound the Trumpets!”.  For the first time in many years, in addition to our phenomenally gifted accompanist Richard Lennox on keyboard and organ, we had an octet of professional instrumentalists from Bristol.  To a string quintet of 2 violins, viola, ‘cello and double bass were added two trumpets and timpani.  In St. John’s resonant acoustic they gave added lustre to a splendidly varied programme featuring music by Byrd, Mozart, Haydn, Mendelssohn and Bairstow.  

Under Matthew Clark’s committed and inspiring direction the choir has grown to more than 40 in number, and they were joined by four excellent soloists:  Heather Wardle – Soprano, Juliet Curnow – Alto, Archie Playdon – Tenor, and William Stevens – Bass.  

The concert opened with Joseph Haydn’s great “Te Deum in C”, a paean of praise to God which he composed at the request of the Empress Maria Theresa.  She was a music-lover and keen singer and, accompanied by the full ensemble, it provided a fitting opening to a programme of richly contrasted choral favourites.  This was followed by two very different settings of the ancient Latin text “Ave Verum Corpus”.  The first, accompanied by Richard Lennox on the organ, was the mini-masterpiece by Mozart.  One of his final compositions, it is a much-loved staple of church and cathedral choirs. The Choir then sang the same words in an unaccompanied setting by William Byrd, written some 180 years earlier, which was chosen to commemorate the 400thanniversary of the death of one of England’s greatest composers.  

This was followed by one of Edward Bairstow’s most dramatic and arresting anthem’s, “Blessed City, Heavenly Salem”.  Composed to show off the power of a great cathedral organ and choir (he was organist at York Minster from 1913 till his death in 1946), he juxtaposes bold climaxes with deliciously delicate passages.  One oddity of Bairstow’s setting of J. M. Neale’s text is that he omitted the last verse.  Happily, that has been made good by Dr Rob Waters, who brings Bairstow’s work to a glorious conclusion with a coda composed for Gloucester Cathedral Choir, where Matthew is a Bass Lay Clerk.  

Three further works completed the first half of the concert.  The first was another tribute to Willam Byrd, the “Agnus Dei” from his “Mass for Four Voices”.  It is quite remarkable that he could write such a serene setting at a time of such political and religious unrest.  That was followed by Mendelssohn’s anthem “Verleih uns Frieden” (“Lord, in your mercy, send us peace”), written in the wake of his discovery and promotion of J. S. Bach’s “Passions”.  Despite Robert Schumann saying “This small piece deserves to be world famous” it was, for many, a delightful discovery.   To conclude, the Choir sang Haydn’s rousing early anthem “Insanae et Vanae Curae” (“Vain and raging cares invade our minds”).  Two furiously dramatic sections, hammering out the futility of man’s vain ambitions, are followed by two sections in which the peace-filled text “If God is for you, all things are favourable for you” conjures a quiet hope after the furies that went before, and the piece ends peacefully.  After all that it was time for some refreshments.

The second half of the concert featured just one work – Haydn’s magnificent “Missa in Angustiis”, otherwise known as “The Nelson Mass”. The great musicologist and Haydn authority, H. C. Robbins Landon, describes this masterpiece as “arguably Haydn’s greatest single composition”, and it certainly wowed performer and audience alike.  Here the Choir, the excellent band of soloists, the chamber ensemble and Richard Lennox on the organ had the scope to revel in great music-making, and they did so to thrilling effect – the magnificent trumpet playing and resounding timpani adding a blaze of colour and splendour.  It was a fitting ending to a memorable evening, and the delighted audience showed their appreciation to the echo!