for soprano and tenor soli, choir (SATB) and organ
Ronald Duncan (E)
This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.
Choral level of difficulty: Level 3-4 (5 greatest)
This anthem, which is really more like a mini cantata than an anthem, was written for the marriage of the Earl of Harewood and Marion Stein. It took place in St. Mark’s, North Audley Street, London, the church for which Britten had written his C major Te Deum and E flat Jubilate. The original soloists were Joan Cross and Peter Pears and Britten conducted.
The difficulty with this work is that it really requires two professional soloists to do it justice. The choir begins the anthem and Britten uses the Ave Maria which Duncan places at the beginning and end of the first verse like a peal of bells. It is wonderfully effective. It is also used as a refrain. The second section (verse) is marked ‘Recitative’ and is for soprano solo. The early freedom implied by that term gives way to an Andante comodo and the soloist sings a beautiful lyrical setting of Duncan’s imaginative words. The choir returns with a piano version of the ‘Ave Maria’ as a refrain and the tenor soloist takes over for verse three. Britten’s flowing organ accompaniment takes its cue from the opening words here: ‘As mountain streams find one another Till they are both merged there in a broad, peaceful river...’ This is another extended and lovely solo for the tenor. In verse four, the choir rejoins for a brief refrain using the opening words of the anthem, and the soloists now sing a lively, playful duet. The ending for everyone is a quietly ravishing ‘Amen’.
This is another work of Britten’s which is almost never performed. The choral parts are not difficult and the organ part is less challenging than some of Britten’s other choral/organ works. Only the solo parts would seem to represent a barrier to a regular performance profile for the anthem. These are not difficult solos in themselves, but do need singers who can project a real sense of the ‘solo’ and also have an easy top B flat (both soloists) which can be managed without fuss in a lovely rising scale situation.
Repertoire note by Paul Spicer