Bromley Parish Church stands as a symbol of timeless stability in an urban landscape otherwise dominated by multi-storey car parks and the disposable trappings of modern consumerism. Its permanence, as with all things, is more illusion than reality: the medieval appearance of St Peter and St Paul’s masks the story of how ancient masonry was destroyed in April 1941 by the force of one German high explosive bomb and replaced post-war by a new church, albeit incorporating its predecessor’s original flintwork and tower. Bingham’s third Missa brevis setting
(subtitled ‘Awake my soul’) and her anthem The Shepherd
were created in 2007 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the phoenix building’s consecration. ‘I wanted the dramatic progression of the Mass to be about rebuilding’, notes the composer. The work’s Kyrie, she continues, evokes ‘walking amid the ruins of the church, desolation, despair’. Its Gloria unfolds from the ‘decision to rebuild—a sense of renewed hope’, while the Sanctus enshrines the solemnity of the new church’s consecration. The Agnus Dei (‘Lamb of God’), observes Bingham, turns to ‘the forgiveness of enemies’, a process led by the rebuilding of trust and recognition of mankind’s mutual interdependence.
Austere modal harmony and a fear-filled tritone conjure up images of a wasteland in the Kyrie, brief in duration but fathomless in its survey of life undermined by death. The Gloria retrieves material from a hazy world of medieval number symbolism to confront earthly imperfection in the form of a brassy march with the perfection of the Holy Trinity, the latter articulated by the organ’s long chains of triplet quavers and commingled in the rhythmic shifts and syncopations of the choral writing. Repetition is key to the affect established and maintained throughout the Sanctus. Bingham’s conception is tuned to the infinite grace implied by the word ‘Holy’, rather than to the projection of shining visions of the ‘God of power and might’ or of ecstatic ‘Hosannas’. The organ falls silent in ‘Lamb of God’: forgiveness is work for women and men, not machines.
from notes by Andrew Stewart © 2013