Ely Cathedral, or to give it its full title, The Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Ely, is the most important church in the Ely Diocese in Cambridgeshire, and is the seat of the Bishop of Ely and a suffragan bishop, the Bishop of Huntingdon. Nicknamed "the ship of the Fens" because of its prominence in the surrounding countryside, it is one of the oldest churches in England dating back to the times of Edward the Confessor, the 11th century King, who most probably sang in the choir being a member of the monastic school.
The group of boy choristers as we know it today was formed in the 15th century to sing the daily Mass in the newly-built Lady Chapel. The lay clerks or adult singers were not added until the mid-16th century, and the choir has remained largely unaltered in composition ever since. Today the choir incorporates 18 choristers and 6 lay clerks who sing daily Evensong and the Eucharist on Sunday mornings, apart from performing at concerts and broadcasts and also undertaking recording projects.
This programme is an edifying celebration of the musical life of this cathedral and includes four pieces for organ solo and seven choral works with organ accompaniment. The former group is made up of Elgar's Imperial March, Bridge's Adagio in E, Dupre's Choral and Fugue in F Sharp, Op. 57 and Glazunov's Fantaisie, Op. 110, where the music is highly spectacular and consistently inspiring. Two "Te Deums" in A and C and two "Jubilates" also in A and C by Stanford, Bairstow's Lamentation and Noble's "Magnificat in A" and "Nunc Dimittis" in A constitute the choral section, where the listener finds himself surrounded by an aura of prayerful and devotional sounds that stir the soul to bow in thankful adoration.
The superb performances are in the best English choral and organ-playing tradition; the singing in particular is beautifully shaped, with precise phrasing and mellow-toned harmonics a constant feature throughout. For those who love to wallow in a grand sacred celebration "English style", then this issue is just the right recipe, although those who have more varied tastes should find much to enjoy. Pristine sound quality is an added plus.
Copyright © 2011, Gerald Fenech