There’s a reason that the tradition of Evensong is so popular in Durham. Taking forty-five minutes out of your day for quiet reflection – religious or not – is a great way to round off a day, and the healthy congregation size at the Cathedral this evening showed that I am not alone in this belief. The choir comprised of roughly sixty singers from Collingwood, Grey, Trevelyan and Van Mildert College Choirs, directed by Matthew Morgan and accompanied by Peter Swift on the organ.
Swift’s play-in as the choir processed in was skilfully brought to a close by ending on the starting chord of the Smith Responses. The balance of the choir was shown off here in this unaccompanied setting. Tuning and intonation were generally strong and the energy shown through Matthew Morgan’s conducting was also reflected in the sound produced by the choir.
‘The dynamics were managed beautifully throughout’
The psalm assigned for Evensong was Psalm 119, verses 81-96. I was immediately impressed with the diction of the choir, something that was common throughout the performance. The varying dynamics of different verses of the psalm were effectively done and brought the text to life. The psalm was full throughout and this highlighted the need for further thought about the ends of phrases in each verse, as singers didn’t tend to watch their conductor for placement of final consonants, often resulting in a ricochet effect. However, this was only a small point; there were many fine moments displayed, a favourite of mine being the tenors cutting through the texture in just the right moments, as though having the final say in the Gloria.
Choosing Dyson in D for the canticles was always bound to be a rousing choice for a choir of sixty singers. The Magnificat was balanced extremely well, though it would have been nice for the conductor to have been placed at the congregation’s end of the stalls in order that the choir faced the congregation rather than the nave and the full impact of the piece could be realised. I felt that the tempo of the Gloria took a little while to settle, but this was recovered well.
The Nunc Dimittis from Dyson’s setting and the serene mood that was achieved through it directly contrasted that of the Magnificat. The dynamics were managed beautifully throughout this and it was great to hear the basses enjoying their line in the Gloria. There were occasional moments where the organ overpowered the singers, but these were few and far between.
I had not come across Rawsthorne’s ‘Christ is my Cornerstone’ before this evening, but the choir certainly sold it to me. A fantastic organ solo played by Swift set the piece off to a good start and passed the baton over to the choir, with spotless intonation on the unison first verse. A beautifully sustained line by the sopranos and tenors finished off the piece and the echo around the building was certainly a special moment. After a brief period of silence, Swift’s exciting voluntary of Leighton’s Toccata on Hanover from his Six Fantasies on Hymn Tunes brought the Evensong to a close.
‘This evensong should be considered a great success for everyone who took part’
With only a couple of instances where the harmonies took a moment to settle, this evensong should be considered a great success for everyone who took part, especially after only three rehearsals. Furthermore, a big congratulations should be given to Matthew Morgan, who brought the four choirs together and directed them so well.