Wond’rous Machine
Saturday 28 April 2018 at 7:30pm
  Date:  Saturday 28 April 2018
  Time: 7:30pm
  Venue:  St Matthew’s Church, Kettering Road, Northampton, NN1 4RY
This concert has now passed.
Previous Concert
Next Concert
Our second concert in the season – Wond’rous Machine – celebrating the great wealth of music for large chorus and symphonic organ, focuses on the great musical commissions of the Northampton-born Priest, Walter Hussey (Vicar of St Matthew’s Northampton (1937-55) and Dean of Chichester Cathedral (1955-77)). Here in Northampton he commissioned poetry, art, and music for St Matthew’s, and from that legacy we perform three works – two large-scale works by Finzi and Britten, and his Prelude and Fugue for organ. Using the medium of Fantasia and Fugue, Northampton-born composer Robert Walker later wrote a piece (for the organist of St Paul’s Cathedral, Simon Johnson, who was for a number of years our own Musical Director) based on themes by Britten, which is also performed.

Leonard Bernstein with Walter Hussey

Alongside this we perform his major commission from Chichester, a three-movement Cantata by Leonard Bernstein called Chichester Psalms (which we are happy to be performing in the centenary year of Bernstein’s birth). The final work in the programme is the world première of a new scoring of Bryan Kelly’s Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in C major, first performed during the same Southern Cathedrals Festival as the première of Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms (in Chichester Cathedral, 1965). We are delighted that Professor Kelly has added harp, timpani, and percussion parts to his setting of the two evening Canticles, the same additional instruments that Bernstein employs in Chichester Psalms.

Finzi’s work contains some of his finest music, portraying the liturgical drama of the Eucharist in a series of characterful sections commencing with a solemn, almost improvisatory, introduction. The expressive lines, colourful accompaniment and dramatic choral writing make this a great favourite with choirs and audiences alike. The closing eight-part Amen is one of the most remarkable and poignant pieces of choral writing of its period. Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb, takes its text from a poem – Jubilate Agno – by the supposedly mad Christopher Smart (1722-71), written in a mental asylum where he had been committed by his father-in-law for apparent religious mania. It is easy to see this piece has retained its popularity over the years: it has great colour, drama, bizarre imagery, and the central issue of the individual against the crowd, or against authority, was one to which Britten was to return repeatedly in his works.

Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms sets verses from Psalms 23, 100, 108, 131, and 133, in Hebrew – the beloved language of this composer, whose Jewish faith was integral to his life. In it, Bernstein exploits grand gestures and vibrant, rhythmic singing, as well as decidedly romantic melodies. Indeed, some of the music was refashioned from material cut from his musical West Side Story. This ties superbly with Bryan Kelly’s remarkable Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in C, which is founded upon Latin American rhythms. Both of these works are performed with not only organ accompaniment, but also with the added sparkle of harp and percussion.


Northampton Bach Choir
The Choristers of St Matthew’s Church, Northampton
The Choristers of All Saints’ Church, Northampton

Percussion –
Keith Crompton & Matt Butler
Harp –
Elizabeth Bass
Organ –
Justin Miller
Conductor –
Lee Dunleavy

Britten – Rejoice in the Lamb (18’)
Walker – Fantasia and Fugue on Themes of Britten (7’)
Finzi – Lo, the full, final sacrifice (16’)

… Interval of 15 minutes …

Bernstein – Chichester Psalms (23’)
Britten – Prelude and Fugue on a Theme of Vittoria (7’)
Kelly – Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in C (7’)*

* world première of new instrumentation