It is always a delight to visit Southwark, partly because the surroundings are far from propitious: most cathedrals are approached through venerable precincts and well manicured lawns, whereas Southwark rises abruptly and defiantly from the warren of streets round London Bridge and Borough Market. But once inside there is an instant transformation: the centuries roll away, and the beauty and majesty of the place casts the same spell on the modern visitor as it must have done on the pilgrims of Chaucer’s day. Sometimes the sheer scale of the larger cathedrals can make them intimidating places for visiting choirs. Southwark is different, and the choir felt inspired rather than overawed: this was our third visit under Richard Lyne’s direction, and we knew what to expect.
As a sign of his confidence in the choir, Richard had chosen the Canticles in B minor by Hugh Blair (1864-1932), who was associated with Worcester Cathedral for many years and was a friend of Elgar. The music is demanding, with each vocal line frequently subdivided, and Richard admitted to some initial apprehension about our preparedness. However, we rose to the challenge and did justice to the work on one of its rare outings.
We sang James Cryer’s Responses and Edward Bairstow’s poignant anthem Let all mortal flesh keep silent.
My heartfelt thanks go to everyone concerned in the event, including our faithful band of supporters from All Saints, who flocked to hear us, but most of all to Richard, everyone’s favourite choir master (and some of us are old enough to have had many to choose from down the years). Richard’s affection for the choir as a whole and solicitude for its individual members is transcended only by his passion for the music. We are so fortunate.