An exceptional musical event took place on Friday, when the Priests performed in concert with the London Oratory School Schola, directed by Lee Ward, and accompanied by The London Oratory Sinfonia at the Cadogan Hall, London.
The evening was introduced, with an unscheduled appearance by the distinguished actor Simon Callow, who is an Oratory Old Boy and patron of the choir.
In his opening comments, Callow praised the high standards achieved by the Oratory - which is the only State school in the United Kingdom to offer a musical education equivalent to that normally offered in cathedral schools. He also thanked former headmaster John MacIntosh who conceived and realised the project.
The concert began with a selection of favourites from the albums The Priests and Harmony: Vivaldi's Dominus Fili Unigenite; Schubert's Ave Maria; Pergolese's Stabat Mater; a tranquil modern Gaelic Blessing by John Rutter, followed by a traditional Gaelic Blessing; Mendelssohn's When Jesus Was Our Lord and the popular Panis Angelicus. The Priests, Frs Martin and Eugene O'Hagen, and Fr David Delargy sang beautifully; their voices blending seamlessly with the Schola. A highlight of the first half was King of Kings, a lyrical piece composed by the Priests to words of St Columba.
If the first half of the concert demonstrated the ability of the Priests and Schola to interpret a range of more traditional music very beautifully - the second half showed their absolute professionalism sailing through an incredibly complex classical-ethnic-ecclesiastic modern composition: Karl Jenkins The Armed man: A Mass For Peace, composed for the Millennium.
This awesome piece, commissioned by the Royal Armouries is an examination of war and peace in a multi-cultural, global society, expressed in bold musical compositions using lyrics from classic poets, biblical verses, and traditional Mass, as well as from Muslim, Hindu, and Japanese sources.
The piece began with 'The Armed Man' - a song introduced with a marching drumbeat and a simple tune (based on a 15th century original) played on whistles. The choir - singing in French - fell into the marching rhythm and strengthened it. The song is a strong call to arms and establishes the darkness to follow.
There was an elaborate 'Kyrie,' before the dark sounds of 'Save Me From The Bloody Men,' a clever composition starting out sounding like a traditional Gregorian chant for male voices, before the final phrase where a sudden drumbeat and some ominous notes bringing a sense of doom, anger and fear.
After an uplifting Sanctus the ominous 'Hymn Before Action' which - using words by Rudyard Kipling - established the mindset needed for battle with a sweeping melody, somewhat reminiscent of a film score.
The beat picked up, literally, in 'Charge!' which - using text from several sources - established the start of the battle with powerful vocals, trumpets, and drums.
At the height of the battle pieces the stage was also lit with a huge torch on either side. 'Angry Flames' began with the sound of a lone trumpet followed by the ringing of a bell, a slow melody, and then the quiet, sad solo vocals, sometimes supported by the chorus. The lyrics - translated from the Japanese, reflected the violence of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and powerfully described the horrors left behind.
This mournful mood continued in the ninth song 'Torches' which, using words from The Mahabharata, described the sad fate of the victims of war. The melody, the instrumentation, and the singing in this song were all quite subdued as if fearful of disturbing the dead. Only the final word of this song,'torches', was sung loud and angrily.
The music subsided with 'Now The Guns Have Stopped' - a carefully song of mourning and loneliness sung by a weary battle survivor. This was followed by a more familiar Benedictus, starting out as a quiet instrumental with the choir following, sounding as if singing from a great hall or church in the distance. Once the orchestra's horn section chimed in, the chorus becomes a powerful song of praise with a strong melody.
The concluding song: 'Better is peace than always war', echoed the tune of the melody that started the song cycle, bringing the audience back down to earth with joyful instrumentation and more cheerful choral vocals.
The concert ended with a well-deserved standing ovation. All proceeds from the evening went to support the Schola.
There will be another chance to see this unique choir on 7 May when they perform in the world premier of Roxanna Panufnik's Schola Missa de Angelis and music by Giovanni Gabrieli, Brucker and Grayston Ives at St James's Church, Spanish Place.
For more information see: www.london-oratory.org/schola/
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