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An English Elegy, March 2019

On Saturday 30th March Octavian Singers will present an evening of English choral works. The 4 works on the programme are “Blest Pair of Sirens” by Parry, “Give Unto the Lord” by Elgar, “God is gone up” by Finzi and “Rejoice in the Lamb” by Britten. There is a strong link in this programme not only through nationality, but also through interesting and unexpected texts.

Parry was not at all respected as a composer of choral music until he was commissioned by the Bach Choir to compose the 8 part setting of Milton’s poetry in 1887. The work, “Blest Pair of Sirens” has remained a choral favourite ever since, alongside “I was glad” from 1902 and “Jerusalem” for a Suffragette rally in 1916.

Parry had been asked to compose the coronation anthem in 1902 because he was at the height of his fame, whereas Edward Elgar’s star was only just rising after the success of “Gerontius” in 1899. The anthem we’ll be singing was written in 1914 for the Festival of the Sons of the Clergy, a charity dating back to 1655. This setting of psalm 29 contains familiar Elgarian melodies and harmonies grown from the German Romantic tradition.

Finzi’s work “God is gone up” was composed for the Feast of St Cecilia in 1951 and the text is a meditation on verses from St Paul’s letter to the Phillippians written by Taylor, a Puritan metaphysical poet who emigrated to Massachusetts in 1668.

We finish with Britten’s well known setting of poetry by Christopher Smart, written while confined in a madhouse in the late 1750s. The text paints portraits of cat, mouse and flowers and the work begins and ends with a calm Hallelujah.

The concert is held in Trinity Methodist Church, Brewery Road Woking, starting at 7.30pm


Rutter Shearing Britten, July 2019