A Year at Newcastle Regent REGCD582

A Year at Newcastle
Kris Thomsett (organ), The Choir of Newcastle Cathedral/Ian Roberts
rec. 2023, Newcastle Cathedral, Newcastle, UK
Regent REGCD582 [72]

The tradition of Newcastle Cathedral has more than nine hundred years. Along with the castle and the large stretches of city wall, it represents the medieval city. The liner notes say: “music is central to the […] Cathedral’s daily life of prayer, worship and witness”. The programme has “concentrated on the rich treasury of 20th century music, along with some more recent compositions”. Several are receiving their premiere recordings.

The Church’s Year opens with Edward Elgar’s Benedictus with words drawn from the Book of Common Prayer Matins. It was written for the Hereford Three Choirs Festival in 1897, and dedicated to George Sinclair, organist at Hereford Cathedral. It is generally restrained, and the final Gloria is a “celebratory treatment” of the text. It is a splendid accessory to the Church’s Advent meditation on John the Baptist’s preparation for the coming of Christ.

Pianist and baritone William Drakett, Vicar Choral at Wells Cathedral, contributes a sympathetic Magnificat and Nunc Dimitis for Advent and Candlemas, respectively. They are infused with plainsong.

The York-born composer and organist Dr. Alan Gray is represented on this disc by his Three Grace Anthems. A distinguished performer, Gray succeeded Charles Villiers Stanford as organist at Trinity College, Cambridge. Best recalled nowadays for his four organ sonatas, Gray wrote much church music, cantatas, vocal music and part songs, as well as a string quartet and violin sonata. The Grace Anthems, unpublished in his lifetime, were discovered and edited by Matthew McCullough of Durham University. The Christmas anthem Laetabundus exultet is a vibrant celebration of the “Matchless maiden” who “Bringeth forth the Prince of Peace”. The second, the Sanctus, is suitable for Trinity. It is a beautifully wrought and expansive eight-part setting of the Mass Ordinary that glows with the superb fugue on the words Hosanna in Excelsis. Equally satisfying is Justorum animae set for double choir. The text, taken from the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed, provides fitting music for All Souls’ Day.

A rare treat is an extract from Ralph Vaughan Williams’s 1951 opera The Pilgrim’s Progress, The Bird’s Song. He arranged this setting of the 23rd Psalm as a stand-alone piece. It translates well from the stage to the chancel. Equally lovely is the opening Kyrie from RVW’s Mass in G minor of 1921. It is an ideal fusion of a modern idiom and Tudor polyphony.

Thomas F. Dunhill is best known for the song The Cloths of Heaven to a poem by W.B. Yeats. He wrote in a wide variety of genres, including the operetta Tantivy Towers and the Symphony in A minor. A generation or so ago, aspiring pianists would have enjoyed playing his graded character studies and suites. Amongst this considerable catalogue were several anthems. To the Queen of Heaven,suitable for the Annunciation, originally devised for soloist and piano, is valuable in this arrangement for trebles and organ.

Assistant Director of Music at Newcastle Cathedral Kris Thomsett contributes Ubi caritas. This antiphon for Maundy Thursday is sung during the Washing of the Feet. It is quiet and restrained, as befits the notion that “wherever charity and love are to be found/God is there”.

Edward Bairstow published Sing ye to the Lord when he was organist at Leeds Parish Church. This anthem has a strong organ accompaniment. The opening tuba stop fanfare appear at intervals, some delicious unison passages explode into four parts, and there is a powerful reprise of the opening figure in the Alleluia Amen.

Healey Willan, a Brit based in Canada, made a wonderful setting of Rise up, my love to words from the Song of Solomon, one of a series of his Liturgical Motets. The sheer beauty of this short piece ensures that this may be his best-loved work. The motet can be sung at Eastertide, or for a Festival of Our Lady.

Ben Ponniah’s Litany to the Holy Spirit, a recent work, was composed for the trebles of the choir of St Thomas Church, 5th Avenue, New York. It is reflective with soft, jazzy harmonies.

Bearing in mind that Gerald Finzi had a Jewish background and was an agnostic, it is remarkable that his extensive anthem, Lo, the full, final, sacrifice is such an important meditation on the Christian doctrine of the Eucharist. It uses metaphysical poet Richard Crashaw’s translation of St Thomas Aquinas’s Adore te and Lauda Sion Salvatorum. This long anthem is sectional, following the stanzas of the text. It allows Finzi to provide variety of expression and word painting. The choir gives it a gratifying performance which explores the power and the mystery of the words.

The recital closes with a sterling performance of the Te Deum from Herbert Howells’s Collegium Regale. It was the first of his Services for King’s College, Cambridge. It is a perfect equilibrium of glorious climaxes and hushed quieter moments.

The organ is a four-manual instrument built by T. C. Lewis around 1880 and incorporating older pipework. It has been rebuilt by Harrison & Harrison in 1911 and 1954, and reordered by Nicholson & Co. of Worcester in 1981. Most recently, the instrument has been reinstated after “some years of silence”.

Ian Roberts’s liner notes are helpful, even if some composition dates are missing. All texts and translations of the works are given. The recording is ideal, with an excellent balance between choir and organ (when used).

The repertoire is very varied and always interesting. It explores a wide range of 20th-century church music, and a few more recent compositions have been added for good measure. Performances by the Choir of Newcastle Cathedral, organist Kris Thomsett and musical director Ian Roberts are always sympathetic and spiritually uplifting.

John France

Help us financially by purchasing from

Presto Music


Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Benedictus, Op 34, No 2 (1897)
William Drakett (b. 1992)
Magnificat from The Wells Service
Alan Gray (1855-1935)
Laetabundus exultet from Three Grace Anthems
William Drakett
Nunc Dimitis from The Wells Service
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Psalm 23 The Bird’s Song from The Pilgrim’s Progress (1951)
Kyrie from Mass in G minor (1921)
Thomas F Dunhill (1877-1946)
To the Queen of Heaven (1926)
Maundy Thursday
Kris Thomsett
Ubi caritas
Edward Bairstow (1874-1946)
Sing ye to the Lord (1911)
Healey Willan (1880-1968)
Rise up, my love (1929)
Ben Ponniah (b. 1984)
Litany to the Holy Spirit (2018)
Alan Gray
Sanctus from Three Grace Anthems
Corpus Christi
Gerald Finzi (1901-1956)
Lo, the full, final sacrifice (1946)
All Souls
Alan Gray
Justorum animae from Three Grace Anthems
Christ the King
Herbert Howells (1892-1983)
Te Deum (Collegium Regale) (1944)