Durham Cathedral Choir Association

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This recording seeks to encapsulate in relatively permanent manner something of the form and feeling of the daily worship offered in Durham Cathedral. Because worship, however carefully planned and rehearsed, is spontaneous and offered largely by clergy and choir in the presence of and on behalf of a congregation, a recording made on two separate occasions in an otherwise empty cathedral will inevitably lose some of the atmosphere of an actual service. On the other hand it can also be shared by very many who may never have a chance to visit the cathedral itself.

At Durham, as at other ancient English cathedrals, there is a tradition of daily choral worship which stretches back for centuries, broken only at the time of the Common-wealth. When the cathedral was a Benedictine monastery, the daily offices would have been sung by the monks in choir, joined for many of the services by the Choristers, or singing-boys. After the dissolution of the monastery the choir, now composed of Choristers and Lay Clerks, continued to sing Matins and Evensong daily. Matins,as also Holy Communion, is still sung on Sundays: but (Again, as elsewhere) it is Evensong which is still sung every day; and, speaking generally, it is in Even-song that English Cathedral music is tended to find its most inspired and characteristic expression.

So this recoding seeks to capture something of the atmosphere of the daily worship offered at Evensong. More than that, it attempts to represent Evensong as it might be sung on a special day, namely the feast of Saint Cuthbert on 20 March.

Born in 634 in the Scottish Borders, Cuthbert became a monk in Melrose in 651. After a period as Guest Master at Ripon and a return to Melrose as Prior, he became Prior of Lindisfarne (now also known as Holy Island). He was consecrated Bishop of Lindisfarne in 685, and died in his retreat on Fame Island on 20 March 687. A man of intense prayer, beloved of all with whom he came into contact, and to whom numerous miracles have been attributed, he is the most famous saint of the north-east.

In 857 Danish raiders destroyed the monastery at Lindisfarne, forcing the monks to flee and to take with them the body of St Cuthbert. It was not until over a century later, in 995, that the saint’s remains reached their final resting place, on a hill almost entirely surrounded by the River Wear. Here, to enclose his shrine, a cathedral was built, being pulled down in 1092 to make way for the present one which was started the following year. If it had not been for St. Cuthbert, Durham Cathedral would never have existed.

The Office of Evensong reached the form in which it is heard here in 1662, where it forms part of the Book of Common Prayer. Much of the material in the service goes back a further century, to the time of Miles Coverdale (the translator of the psalms) and Thomas Cranmer. The readings are from the twentieth-century Revised Standard Version of the Bible: the prayers include material by the seventeenth-century metaphysical poet John Donne and by the compilers of the Alternative Service Book of 1980. But, despite the varied provenance of the words, the formality of the language and the rounded cadences of the psalms in particular will strike some as old-fashioned. It is not only a tribute to the quality of the words but also a sign of encouragement and hope that composers of all periods, including those of the present day, have felt inspired to set them to music which is of its own time. In this recording, words written centuries ago are heard set to music written (mostly) during our own lifetimes. And so the tradition, old though it is, is constantly renewing itself and finding new expression and life.

The service opens with a setting by Richard Lloyd (organist of Durham Cathedral until 1985) of a poem by George Herbert. The setting of the Canticles is by Kenneth Leighton, whose untimely death in 1988 robbed Britain of one her finest composers. The anthem, commissioned by the Dean and Chapter of Durham for the 1300th anniversary of the death of St Cuthbert, reflects the influence on John Tavener of the Orthodox tradition. As he has written, “this Ikon of St Cuthbert, an ikon of music and words in the place of wood and paint, seeks to recall, in its stylised form, the personal aura of Cuthbert”. The Responses by Francis Grier show something of the same Orthodox influence. The hymn was written by Peter Baelz, then Dean of Durham, for the redadication of the cathedral bells in 1980 (the names in the first and last verse are those given to the cathedral bells). Since then this has been one of the hymns sung at Evensong on St Cuthbert’s Day during the procession to the tomb of St Cuthbert. The organ music which frames the Office looks, as so often, beyond these shores: in this case to Paris, the twentieth-century Paris of Langlais and Mulet.

© James Lancelot, 1990

Choral Evensong for

St. Cuthbert’s Day

PRCD 5029

£ 5.-

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Jean Langlais

Voluntary: Prelude modal, Op. 6 No.1

Richard Lloyd

Introit: The Windows

Sentence: Hebrews 12, 1-2

Francis Grier


Charles Lockhart

Office Hymn: For all thy saints, O Lord

Chants by W. Parratt and T. Walmsley

Psalm 104

First Reading: Ezekiel 35, 11-12 & 15-16

Kenneth Leighton

Magnificat: The Second Service

Second Reading: I Peter 5, 1-11

Kenneth Leighton

Nunc Dimitis: The Second Service

Apostles’ Creed

Francis Grier

Lesser Litany, Lord’s Prayer & Responses Collects

John Tavener

Anthem: Ikon of Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne

Prayers & Grace

Desc. Richard Lloyd

Hymn: Ring Christ, ring Mary, Benedict and Bede Walter Greatorex

Henri Mulet

Voluntary: Carillon-Sortie