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The text, taken from The English Hymnal, is a medieval plainsong Sequence (an addition to the liturgy that was sung during Mass after the Alleluia, usually on feast days) for the Feast of All Saints (1 November). Whilst composing the work Leighton confided to his wife that he did not find it easy composing a text that related to death; nevertheless the result is a marvellously consolatory work which is cast in a continuous span of five sections.
The Introit begins with the choir softly intoning the word ‘Gaudeamus’, which blossoms lyrically before bursting into a choral fanfare. A flamboyant, quasi-improvisatory organ solo provides a link to a fast rhythmic section that rises to a climax at ‘in honour of All Saints’. It fades with hushed awe at the ‘Son of God’, before the opening ‘Gaudeamus’ returns.
The baritone’s sombre exhortation to ‘fear the Lord’ opens the Gradual, soon joined by lilting soprano ‘Alleluias’. As the other voices are gradually added to the texture the music gathers momentum until they chime ‘Alleluia’ together, and a brief organ postlude leads to the Offertory. Here, to quietly throbbing chords, the trebles’ serene melody expresses the wonder of God, and concludes with a caressing cadence, as the voices enter by imitation and a solo treble voice floats tranquilly above.
With the Communion a profound sense of mystery is reached. An ornate organ solo sets the mood of solemnity with the baritone joining in to meditate on the peace the ‘souls of the righteous’ will obtain after death. The choir voices steal in, and in an unaccompanied passage with intense harmony the music rises to a fervent climax, only to die away for a cadence of balm.
Initially the Finale hearkens back to the opening of the sequence, before erupting into a paean of praise, as the music adopts a celebratory character heightened by the syncopated rhythmic organ accompaniment. After a climactic ‘Alleluia’, the semi-chorus starts singing Issac Watts’s hymn ‘Give me the wings of faith’, set to a melody by Orlando Gibbons clothed in the harmony of the Scottish metrical tune No 67, and with the rest of the choir adding uplifting ‘Alleluias’. Finally the moment of grandeur arrives as in conclusion the congregation sings the hymn.
from notes by Andrew Burn © 2008
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Kenneth Leighton’s music is at the heart of English Cathedral repertoire, and demonstrates the composer’s happy absorption in this milieu from an early age. This latest disc from Wells Cathedral includes some first recordings in impeccable, lasting p ...» More