Gloucester Cathedral ****


Never mind Rutland Boughton’s long-neglected opera The Immortal Hour, I had my own immortal hour – and it was exactly that, no more, no less – on Thursday evening in a candlelit Gloucester Cathedral.

Promoted by the Three Choirs Festival to celebrate the 150th birthday the previous day of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gloucestershire’s favourite musical son (though Parry comes very close for me), this heartening programme, brilliantly constructed, was delivered by young string players under the discreet directorship of violinist Clio Gould.

It was a wonderful surprise to hear Ben Sawyer’s Come and Sing Choir, far away beyond the rood screen, singing Thomas Tallis’ Third Tune, before the remarkable Sainsbury Royal Academy Soloists, comfortably audience side of the screen,  gave us RVW’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, insipidly received under its composer’s direction here in 1910 – can you credit it?, in an account which made positive use of the Cathedral’s reverberant acoustic.

Cellos sounded especially resonant here, not least in the pizzicato announcement of Tallis’ Tune, but every section, plus the second orchestra far away at the opposite end of the nave, created such a wonderful listening experience, alert to each other across the physical and acoustic distancing of this performance space, and building a wonderfully impassioned climax at the heart of this wonderful score.

Purcell’s Fantasia upon One Note followed, so many moods encapsulated within a few bars (even a foretaste of Dido and Aeneas) of the many sides of this succinct piece.

The Gloucestershire Academy of Music Advanced Strings took over for Corelli’s Concerto Grosso in F major Op.6 no.2, crisply articulated and authoritatively directed (difficult to find a name to credit from those cascading in the programme).

And finally both groups converged for Tippett’s ineffable Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli, based on that Concerto Grosso (so, just as with the Tallis, we heard the source), the two violin soloists confident and decisive, the orchestral sound suddenly amazingly clear in this unique acoustic, building up a wonderful sense of tension in the fugue before the delicious flowing release as the conclusion approached.

My only gripe in one of the most absorbing hours I have ever spent reviewing in over 50 years was the under-rehearsed choreography of the players’ comings and goings, and their acknowledgements of an enthusiastic audience at the end. There may have been little rehearsal time in these surroundings, but these details of presentation make such an important impression.

Christopher Morley

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