YORKSHIRE suffered countless casualties in the First World War.
When the crucial bastion of the German defences on the Somme,
Fricourt, fell in July 1916, the East and West Yorkshires and Green
Howards bore the brunt of the attack.
In tribute, the University of Leeds is conducting an extended
survey, with lectures, exhibits, schools events, and conferences,
of the northern city's contribution throughout the First World
Now the characterful St Peter's Singers, closely associated with
the former Leeds Parish Church, now Leeds Minster, have lent their
voices to recalling the city's sacrifice.
The Singers, conducted by the minster's Director of Music, Simon
Lindley, have shown a consistent flair for programming. Performed
to a large and rapt lunchtime audience in Leeds Town Hall, their
ample programme was not only a memorial to the fallen, but a
reminder of top-rank music with Leeds connections.
The anthems of Sir Edward Bairstow - organist at Leeds before
three decades at York Minster - often have a powerful commemorative
feel. "Lord, thou hast been our refuge" (Psalms 144 and 10),
composed for the Festival of the Sons of the Clergy at St Paul's
Cathedral in 1917, could not be more apt or explicit: "Man is like
a thing of nought: his time passeth away like a shadow. . . Comfort
us again, now after the time that thou hast plagued us; and for the
years wherein we have suffered adversity."
Spiky, brassy chromatics from the organ (David Houlder) and a
dynamic choral fugue ("Thou shalt arise . . .") added urgent
tension; yet the choir's best moment was in the superlative Amen,
where Lindley drew a warmth, expressiveness, and confidence
excelling all that preceded.
Elgar's "We will remember them" is drawn from his Laurence
Binyon cantata The Spirit of England, first performed,
though without the famous initial section, by the Leeds Choral
Union two months before the Somme campaign began. In this
compressed version, the mezzo-sopranos or altos made, as elsewhere,
a significant and affecting contribution. The close, "At the going
down of the sun, and in the morning: we will remember them" produce
murmuring susurrations as mesmerising as the music of Arvo
An admirably stirring full setting of Binyon's verse was
composed by the young Mark Blatchly, later assistant organist at
Gloucester Cathedral, in 1980. It was written for the Royal British
Legion Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall. The whole
work, retrospective in style, is immensely compelling, and the
Leeds choir rose to the occasion, not least in some finely assured
unison singing and canonic detail ("They mingle not with their
laughing comrades again").
But the highlight of the whole recital came when the trumpeter
Rebecca Todd intoned an almost subliminal, exquisitely restrained
rendering of the Last Post, which Blatchly fuses with the chorus in
an inspired touch worthy of someone twice his then age, evoking
both mystery and wonder.
Holst's immediately post-war short Festival Te Deum
(1919) feels almost Cranmer-restrained in its simplicity, though it
drew attractive parallellings from the choir upper voices, with
tenors added. The men-only section from the same composer's
metrical (though not oversimplistic) psalm-setting "Turn back, O
man", over Houlder's trudging organ pedal, was especially well
Impressive programme design showed again in Herbert Howells's
"We have heard with our ears, O God", easily the least often heard
of four anthems dating from 1941, and another war. E. W. Naylor's
full-bodied Evening Canticles in A reminded us that his father was
a Leeds boy chorister before progressing to become Bairstow's
predecessor-but-one at York.
If "Greater Love(Many waters cannot quench love)" (1912), by
John Ireland, who was educated till the age of 14 at Leeds Grammar
School, predates the First World War, it is a piece of great power,
both textually (five New Testament sources and the Song of Songs)
and musically. The St Peter's Singers achieved here their glorious
best: a maturer sound than at the outset, a sense of the profound,
a wonderful top line for the searing, prophetic "Greater Love hath
no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends"
(John 15.13), and superb soprano and baritone solos (Julie Kilburn
and Philip Wilcox).
No less imposing was the solo in Stanford's "For lo! I raise
up" - one of those once-overlooked anthems championed by
Donald Hunt at Leeds and now by Lindley, in which "I will stand
upon my watch" was gorgeously and poignantly intoned by Kristina
James (followed by the tenor Christopher Trenholme).
This committed concert served alike as a grieving memorial and a
toast to courage and national pride. It carried off both