being based on sacred texts is one that lives on in the twentieth century. While we have seen a sad decline in the quantity and quality of religious art since the turn of the century, Britten's War Requiem based around a setting of the Mass and the poetry of Wilfred Owen, and William Walton's Belshazzar's Feast have upheld the centuries old pattern begun by the churches when they were the major sponsors of choral pieces.
Another name to add to that modern day roll of honour is that of Howard Blake whose Benedictus is to receive its first London performance on Monday July 11 in Westminster Cathedral. The Bach Choir, in association with the Catholic Herald, in this our centenary year, are presenting this new work, which follows a young man's vocation through initial doubts to fulfillment, on the Feast of St Benedict.
Cardinal Basil Hume will take the part of the narrator, reading the sixth century Rule of St Benedict. Tenor Maldwyn Davies will join the Bach Choir, Choristers of Westminster Cathedral, and the Philharmonia Orchestra under world renown conductor Sir David Willcocks.
Pausing during a busy rehearsal schedule at the Royal College of Music, Sir David, gentle, soft-spoken but clipped in a scholarly way, spoke of his enthusiasm for Howard Blake's composition. "It's dramatic. It's essentially a work that is best heard in buildings like Westminster or St Alban's cathedrals, with all their associations and connections".
The first professional performance of Blake's work came in St Alban's Cathedral, with the Bach Choir under Sir David's direction, and the Dean of St Alban's as the narrator. However, Sir David feels that Westminster Cathedral, with its vast dark spaces towering above the congregation, will give the London performance a special ingredient. "Obviously clarity of detail in the Cathedral isn't as good as say the Royal Festival Hall or the Barbican, but against that you get some wonderful special effects because you can split up the choir into small groups, and place them in different parts of the cathedral, and thus use the building to your advantage. In the Festival Hall you would somehow lose some of the mystery".
The narrator, Cardinal Hume, introduces the work, with a reading from the Rule of St Benedict. "Hearken my son, to the precepts of the master, and incline the ear of thy heart; freely accept and faithfully the instructions of a loving father, that by the labour of obedience thou mayest return to him from whom thou hast strayed by the sloth of disobedience". These words are repeated, set to music and in Latin, by the Bach Choir. Soloist Maldwyn Davies, as the novice and main character Benedictus, then proceeds to question his vocation in song, using the psalms.
In part two, the soloist is roused by St Benedict, the narrator, and then turns back to despair with a scene for solo tenor, based on the words of Francis Thompson's mystical poem, "The Hound of Heaven". In this section, the soloist builds up to the moment of conversion when he resolves to take his vows. The final part shows the monk joining his community.
Sir David was confident that Cardinal Hume would be thoroughly professional in his performance. "All the narrator has to do is read the words of St Benedict. Its no different from what he does everyday in reading the epistle or the gospel".
Tickets for this first London performance of Benedictus by the Bach Choir ir; association with the Catholic Herald are available from the Box Office,
Littlefields, Trout Lane, Barns Green, Horsham, West Sussex RH13 7QD at £10, £7.50, £5 and £2 (unsighted). There is a ten per cent discount for purchases of ten or more seats. Or from the Westminster Ca-thedral Bookshop. Postal bookings should include a sae, with cheque made payable to the Bach Choir.