A concert of comparisons

Headshot of Christopher Gray, Director of Music at Truro Cathedral

 It’s always fascinating to see how different composers respond to the same texts and this is one of the themes at the cathedral choir’s spring concert on Friday 8 March. I often find that composers draw out meanings I would never have considered from the words they set, and it is particularly interesting to place side-by-side different composers’ settings of the same poetry.  

 We will sing two melancholic, even desolate settings of a couple of lines from the book of Job in the Old Testament: ‘My harp is turned to mourning, and my organ into the voice of those that weep. Spare me, Lord, for my days are nothing’. The Latin title is ‘Versa est in luctum’ and I hope it will be interesting for listeners to compare the intense musical settings by two giants of the Spanish renaissance, Alonso Lobo and Tomás Luis de Victoria, contemporaries who were hugely respectful of each other’s work.

 The concert will finish with three settings of lines from Psalm 39 in which the psalmist contemplates his mortality: ‘Lord, let me know mine end and the number of my days’. The psalm offers profound matters for the three composers to ponder in their music. Through beautiful turns of phrase we are asked what is the point in storing up worldly possessions: ‘he heapeth up riches, and cannot tell who shall gather them’; and at the end, the psalmist implores God for a good death: ‘O spare me a little, that I may recover my strength, before I go hence, and be no more seen’.

 The setting by Maurice Greene comes from the early 18th century and features an exquisite duet which will be sung by our two boy Head Choristers, Benji and Oliver. The setting by Johannes Brahms, ‘Herr, lehre doch mich’, comes from his German Requiem of the 1860s and features a dramatic baritone solo to be sung by one of our choral scholars, Jaivin. Earlier in the concert, we will perform another movement from the Brahms Requiem, ‘Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit’ in which one of our girl choristers, Katherine, will sing the soaring solo soprano line reassuring us that through our current earthly sorrow we will be comforted by God. The concert ends with Parry’s setting of Psalm 39 which dates from the very end of the composer’s life, in 1918. This is the most heartfelt of music which, for me, connects directly with the soul.

 I know that the cathedral choir love this music and that they will have hearts well and truly on sleeves for all who come to experience it on 8 March.

For more information and to get tickets for the Truro Cathedral Choir concert, please visit the What's On section.