Composed in 1921, Lord, Thou hast been our refuge
combines a setting of Psalm 90 with Issac Watts’s metrical version of the same Psalm—O God, our help in ages past—and the fine tune ‘St Anne’, to which the latter is commonly sung. VW carries out this feat with typically unostentatious skill. The baritone soloist (sometimes a semi-chorus) starts the Psalm, chant-like; the full chorus enters with the hymn, pianissimo, as if in the distance, and the two proceed in tandem—always piano—until the first verse of the Hymn is finished. The full chorus then continues with the Psalm over a broad spectrum of homophonic texture. An instrumental transition, fugally based on ‘St Anne’, leads to a combined recapitulation / apotheosis—forte now—in which fugal derivations from ‘St Anne’ assume ever greater importance (‘And the glorious majesty of our Lord be upon us’). Vaughan Williams would certainly have been aware, in this context, of Bach’s so-called ‘St Anne’ Fugue, the first phrase of whose subject is identical with the first phrase of the ‘St Anne’ tune.
from notes by Christopher Palmer © 1993