England's Winchester Cathedral is 900 years old this year. As a part of its celebration, the choir of the cathedral is now making a brief tour of the United States. Last night they sang in the Kennedy Center, having sung in Washington Cathedral Sunday morning and afternoon.
Martin Neary is the organist-choir-master of Winchester, a splendid musician full of the values of tradition and the excitement of new ideas. That he is a superb choral man was as evident in the vitality of his direction as in the exquuisitely balanced sound of his 17 boys and 14 men, whose tone was pure but full of warmth.
The music ranged from the glories of the Elizabethans Byrd and Tallis, both of whom were granted royal patents for the printing of music in the 16th century, to the haunting beauty of the grief-stricken elegy, "Take him, earth, for cherishing," which Herbert Howells wrote 15 years ago following the death of President John F. Kennedy.
Queen Victoria's favorite composer, Felix Mendelssohn, was heard in the famous duet with chorus, "I Waited for the Lord," while "The Wilderness," by the leading English Victorian church composer, Samuel Wesley, was a reminder of the academic style that tended to stifle music in the last century.
Motets by Stanford, John Harvey and Benjamin Britten showed the higher planes that have often filled English churches. Harvey's recent setting of "I Love the Lord" is a muted but virtuoso study in choral sonorities, and one of great beauty.