Review of Forfar Choral Evensong

After our recent Choral Evensong, the following article appeared in the magazine of St John’s Episcopal Church, Forfar, and is reproduced here by kind permission:

Music at St. Johns

Royal School of Church Music Scottish Voices – Choral Evensong

We have been extremely privileged this year musically, in that St. Johns has hosted two very special occasions. The first was in April when the Tayside Organists held their President’s evening here, and a magnificent evening that was.  Readers may remember that it was described in professional detail by Robert Lightband, who captured the beauty and skill of the performances wonderfully.  The second was on September 11th, the Choral Evensong above.  This article will inevitably be much less knowledgeable, more broadbrush than his, but hopefully may convey the impression of three quarters of an hour of pure loveliness, an experience shared by about 40 lucky listeners.

As a member of St. Johns, it is a great pleasure to see the chancel packed with singers, all very colourful in their different choir robes, and to hear the very good acoustics of the church used to maximum effect.  There was a wonderful purity to the sound, which at times seemed to soar right into the roof space, but was never overpowering. We know we have a very special organ, and it was played beautifully by Rupert Jeffcoat.  As a member of St. Johns, also, I felt very proud to welcome the singers here, as the church was looking so good.  We know too that we have a lovely building, but when our eyes our being drawn all the time to the chancel, the brilliance of the brass on the cross was breath-taking.

The music was mainly modern, though the versicles and responses were by William Byrd, sixteenth century, and the final voluntary a Prelude and Fugue by Bach, neither of whom could hardly be described as modern!  But there was a timelessness about the whole service, an evensong one could simply lose oneself in.  The introit was an apparently very simple piece by John Bell, with very direct words; the psalm, a beautiful, slightly haunting chant, so clearly sung, then the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, an adaptation fauxbourdon by John Bertalot, written post Second World War – it had a lovely Gregorian chant effect; and the anthem, the biggest, most complex piece was by John Ireland. They were, of course, all different, but the effect was of seamlessness – the service a complete whole.

Evensong, by its nature, talks of peace and quietness.  The day was specially poignant in this respect – September 11th – mentioned in the intercessions by Richard Finch, standing in for Andy.  Most pertinent of all, perhaps, was the final Vesper – a truly lovely setting of The Prayer of St. Francis, by Frikki Walker, the musical director.  The following day a member of the congregation described the service as ‘though the angels of heaven had come and filled the church with music’.  This may be a slightly flowery way of putting of it, but I suspect all of us there were thinking very much the same thing.  She just put it into words.  Please come again, Scottish Voices, and we’ll try to make sure that next time many more people will come to share this very special experience.