Once each year the seventy-five singers who make up Cranleigh’s illustrious Chapel Choir are invited to sing the service of Choral Evensong at one of the great cathedrals in the south of England. Visits in recent years have included Chichester, St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle and even the great St Paul’s Cathedral. This year on Wednesday 29th February we were lucky to have the opportunity to sing in Winchester, the medieval capital of our nation. This stunning cathedral also boasts the longest cathedral nave in Europe.
Choral Evensong, as the title suggests, is an almost entirely sung service requiring much greater input from the choir than simply the hymns and anthem of a typical Cranleigh Service, so the choir needed to be on its mettle. The Director of Music, Marcus Pashley, had chosen settings which made for optimum contrasts of sounds and styles. The Canticles (Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis) were sung to a modern day and highly rhythmic setting by the composer Bryan Kelly who subtly works a hint of the ‘Samba’ into various parts of the score. Psalm singing, despite its unfamiliarity to the choir, proved no problem to the highly talented group of singers who shaped the phrases beautifully and also highlighted the dramatic contrasts of the text. The highlight of the service was undoubtedly the beautiful anthem for double choir by Sir William Harris, ‘Faire is the Heaven’. The two independent choruses were, as usual, split across the nave, and the text was once again delivered with both beauty of tone and dramatic bite.
Cranleigh is lucky to have built up an excellent reputation for the quality of its choral singing and we are always a welcome visitor to the great cathedrals to deputise for their own choirs. Indeed, Cranleigh Voices have been invited to sing in Canterbury Cathedral in April. At the end of Evensong we were thanked profusely by the Dean who made it clear that we would be warmly welcomed back at any point in the future. The cathedral’s Assistant Organist, who accompanied the service, commented that the choir was certainly in the ‘top league’ of choral visitors to the cathedral.