It is testament to the high level of vocal skills of Cranleigh Voices, the School’s premier vocal ensemble, that not only was the choir of twenty-four pupils and staff invited to deputise for the Canterbury Cathedral choir while on tour in the USA, but also that it was able to accept the invitation to sing on only the fourth day of the new term. The event was the first time that Cranleigh Voices, under the directorship of Philip Scriven, had undertaken a Cathedral visit. Cathedral visits have long been a highlight of the 75-strong Chapel Choir’s annual programme; only last term singing the evening service at Winchester. It was therefore good to be able to field another fine vocal ensemble capable of performing at the high standard required in our major Cathedrals. Choral directors in schools are only too aware of the annual impact of the departing UVIth who have given so much to the choirs over their time in the school, so it was wise and appropriate that Philip Scriven had auditioned a few new members who were ‘cutting their teeth’ here.
Singing in Canterbury brings particular challenges for any choir. The unusually wide nave separates the two sides of the choir much more than most cathedrals and the five-second echo requires careful handling particularly in terms of fine tuning and balance between parts. Anything less than perfection here is greatly amplified and exaggerated by the massive acoustic. Fortunately, the team, despite its relative inexperience, handled the challenges of the building magnificently. The early stage of term notwithstanding, Philip Scriven had chosen a programme of glorious pieces which are standards of Cathedral repertoire but also very challenging. The responses were sung to the beautiful setting by Bernard Rose and the Anthem was “God is gone up” by Gerald Finzi. This is rich and sonorous music which raises the game for any choir. The Canterbury organ was thrilling in the opening fanfares and urged the singers to incisive attack and a dramatic and powerful performance overall. The music of Herbert Howells is renowned for the melancholic beauty of its flowing lines but also for a harmonic complexity which many choirs would shy away from. His setting of the “Gloucester Service” was perhaps the highlight of the service; very sensitively sung with some truly magical moments, particularly the extreme pianissimos which Mr Scriven elicited from his well trained singers.
The congregation was numerous with many European tourists among some stalwart Cranleigh supporters and the cathedral made us very welcome. It is a long journey from Cranleigh to Canterbury but the opportunity to sing in such an awe-inspiring building will be long remembered. We even got a glimpse of the Archbishop!