As the first British choir to perform in the United States, in 1953, the Choir of St. Paul’s Cathedral is no stranger to this country. But it visits rarely, with its last U.S. tour in 2003.
On Sunday afternoon, the choir demonstrated why it remains in high demand on this side of the Atlantic, closing out the British Choirs Festival at the Washington National Cathedral with a thoughtful program juxtaposing two historic centuries that displayed the group’s musical technique and brilliance.
Conducted by music director Andrew Carwood, the choir’s 21 boys and 12 men dove into sacred 16th century works by Thomas Tallis and selections from William Byrd’s “Mass for Four Voices.” Producing a sound that belied the size of the group, the choir filled the cathedral with an easy equilibrium of volume, time and space. Some larger choruses struggle with the acoustics in the vast cathedral, but St. Paul’s played it expertly, with its voices buoying naturally.
With organist Simon Johnson playing a critical role in the second half’s modern works, the young choristers gave a haunting performance of Will Todd’s “The Call of Wisdom,” commissioned for and performed at Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee service in 2012. Achieving a breathtaking range of colors and emotions, the full ensemble sang with poignancy in John Ireland’s “Greater Love” and American composer Nico Muhly’s “Grief is the Price We Pay for Love,” written to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Jean is a freelance writer.