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This recording presents the Office of Evensong as it might be offered in Durham Cathedral on Easter Day. Conrad Eden’s Ceremonial Responses for Easter (normally sung from the west end of the cathedral, and a much-loved feature of Easter at Durham) begin the Office after the opening voluntary; the Preces and Responses are those composed by Francis Jackson for the West Riding Cathedrals Festival, 1976.

The service follows its usual pattern, but for this recording both the Boy Choristers and the Girl Choristers are heard on their own with the gentlemen as well as together. The Introit and the setting of the Canticles were commissioned for the cathedral in 2013, a year which saw the visit of the Lindisfarne Gospels to this World Heritage site. The Anthem is that composed by Samuel Sebastian Wesley for Evensong on Easter Day 1834, an occasion on which only Trebles and a single Bass voice were available (which tells one all one needs to know about the state of cathedral music at the time). It must be said that Wesley made the most of the limited resources at his disposal, creating a work which has remained enduringly popular. The famous full-organ chord, for all its humorous aspect, is a wonderfully effective device, but also unrepeatable - as Donald Hunt has written in hios biography, “Wesley has the copyright for all time”.

Central to the liturgy, of course, is the psalm, in this case Psalm 105, a great recital of God’s acts and his faithfulness to his people - a psalm used when Jerusalem’s worship was founded under David (as related in 1 Chronicles. 16. 8ff), and reminiscent in both span and subject of the epic Psalm 78. Framing the service are hymns in the English tradition (albeit in both cases with German tunes) and voluntaries - Quitessentially English beforehand, and French afterwards, its genisis in Easter plainsong recalling Durham’s own monastic roots.

Herbert Howell’s Rhapsody No 1 was composed in August 1915 and dedicated to Dr Arnold Darke. This lyrical and heartfelt outpouring uses Howell’s favoured arch form; bookended by delicate and gently-undulating passages, whilst building to an impassioned central climax before finally coming to a tranquil and restful end in the comforting and enveloping warmth of D flat major.

Of the Introit, Michael Berkeley writes:

First the sun, then the shadow is one of three anthems directly related to Durham Cathedral and the present archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. When he was Dean of Liverpool, Justin commissioned my Advent Anthem (to words by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams) to celebrate the 80th birthday of his mother, Jane. It was subsequently sung by Durham Cathedral Choir at Justin’s Enthronement as Bishop of Durham. As a result of this particularly fine performance, Durham commissioned me to set another Williams poem, Emmaus, which begins “First the sun, then the shadow”. (Emmaus is the biblical village, the road to which is in itself a symbol of profound journeying).

Before I could finish the composition the meteoric, indeed sun-like, rise of the new Bishop in the Anglican Church’s hierarchy overtook me, when Justin was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in succession to Rowan Williams. Returning Justin’s compliment to Jane, his family asked me to write a short and simple anthem (Listen, listen O my child to words from the Rule of St Benedict) for the Enthronement in Canterbury Cathedral. This then preceded the first performance of the new Durham anthem.

My association with Durham Cathedral has been a particularly happy one with the choir, directed by James Lancelot, recording the Advent Anthem and then taking to their hearts First the sun, then the shadow.

I was very struck by the musical contrasts that Rowan Williams conjures up in his poem Emmaus and its sense of mystery and awe: “We cannot learn this rythm we are asked to walk”. In many ways it is not an easy poem to set but what I like as a composer is words that are elliptical, fleeting yet powerful. It’s why I have been drawn to Rilke in another recent work. First the sun, then the shadow is also about sound, the hearing of sound, and there are many references that need, I think, an equally elusive musical treatment to complement the literary language.

Fiannly, I see in the words both great lyricism and moments of terrific climax, to which I hope I have added by taking the liberty of repeating the opening line like a mantra, a sudden blast of brilliant fortissimo light before the concluding recession into a relative and piano darkness:

“First the sun,

first the sun,

first the sun,

then the shadow,

then the shadow.”

Of the canticles, John Casken writes: My Magnificat and Nunc dimittis was composed to mark the return of the Lindisfarne Gospels to the North-East of England. The book, dating from the 7th century, is one of the finest examples of Anglo-Saxon illuminated manuscripts, made by Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne who died in 721 in honour of St Cuthbert. This deeply spiritual act was foremost in my mind when I was writing the work, and for this reason the musical setting of the opening words ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord’ is intended to be devotional. I have marked the piece quietly joyful in an attempt also to reflect the mystery of Mary’s words at the visitation of her cousin Elizabeth. ‘For he that is mighty’ and ‘ He hath shewed strength with is arm’ invite a more vigorous response to the words, but throughout, the trebles’ opening musical phrase returns in some way to remind us of the importance of the first line of the Magnificat.

The Nunc dimittis is built on a rocking rhythm with irregular metres lending a gentle swaying character. At the climatic point, ‘Israel’, the organ has a brief interlude which serves as an introduction to the doxology ‘Glory be to the Father’. It reminds us that the organ plays an equally important part to that of the choir in this work, and it is the organ at the very end which brings back the Magnificat’s opening phrase.

Magnificat and Nunc dimittiswas commissioned by Durham Cathedral with support from Durham Cathedral Choir Association and Lindisfarne Gospels Durham through its Arts Council grant. It was first performed on 30 June 2013 in Durham Cathedral by Durham Cathedral Choir conducted by James Lancelot, with Francesca Massey, organ.

In 1930-31, Charles Tournemire recorded five improvisations on the magnificent Cavaillé-Coll organ of Saint-Clotilde, Paris. In 1958, his pupil Maurice Duruflé set about the painstaking and admirable task of transcribing these works from acetate disc, often working in the dead of night to minimise background noise, and slowing the recordings to half-speed the help decipher complex passages. In the tumultuous Choral-Improvisation on the Easter Sequence Victimae paschali laudes, Tournemire perfectly encapsulates the drama and magnificence of the rending open of the tomb and the ecstasy of the Paschal Victim’s triumph over death, whilst the exquisite heart of the work makes imaginative and poetic use of Sainte-Clotilde’s most expressive colours.

Programme notes © Michael Berkeley, John Casken, Francesca Massey, 2014

Michael Berkeley - Introit- First the sun, then the shadow.mp3

Choral Evensong for Easter Day

PRCD 1126


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Herbert Howells

Voluntary: Rhapsody in D flat, Opus 17 No 1

Conrad Eden

The Easter Acclamations

Michael Berkeley

Introit: First the Sun, then the shadow


Francis Jackson

The Preces

Melody from Selnecker’s Christliche Psalmen, Leipzig, 1587; words by Percy Dearmer

Office Hymn: A brighter dawn is breaking

Chants by Frederick Arthur Gore Ouseley, John Goss (from Jeremiah Clarke), Robert Cooke and Edwin Monk

Psalm 105

Read by Sylvia Lancelot

First Lesson: Song of Solomon 3. 2-5; 8. 6, 7 (NRSV)

John Casken


Read by Canon Rosalind Brown

Second Lesson: John 20. 11 - 18 (NRSV)

John Casken

Nunc dimittis

The Apostels’ Creed

Francis Jackson

The Lesser Litany

Francis Jackson

Lord’s Prayer

Francis Jackson


Francis Jackson


Samuel Sebastian Wesley

Anthem: Blessed be the God and Father

The Prayers and Grace

Melody by Jacob Hintze, Harmony by Johann Sebastian Bach; Words from a Latin Breviary hymn, translated by Robert Campbell

Hymn: At the Lamb’s high feast we sing

Amen: Orlando Gibbons

The Blessing

Francis Jackson

Final Responses

Charles Tournemire, reconstructed by Maurice Duruflé

Voluntary: Choral-Improvisation sur le Victimae paschali