There was a special atmosphere in the Cathedral last night, the annual University Carol Service which brings over a thousand members of the university community together each December. A packed and expectant congregation gathered and stood as the Cathedral lights were extinguished, leaving only the dancing flames of the multitude of candles held by everyone ranged around the Nave and aisles, as the Chamber Choir stood at the West End Door to begin the service with a lively rendition of The Holly and the Ivy. Following this, the voice of third-year soprano Sophia Lyons lifted clear and confident into the roof of the Nave in a ringing opening verse to Once in royal David’s city and the service – and Christmas – was underway.
Later in the service, second-year assistant conductor, David Curtiss, led the Choir on the steps behind the altar in a ravishing reading of O magnum mysterium by Morten Lauridsen, a testing choral piece that requires considerable stamina from the performers.
The Choir’s third solo carol was a rendition of Sing Lullaby in a flowingly expressive setting by Jonathan Rathbone, delivered with great flexibility and lyricism.
The first time the Choir sings in the Cathedral is during the rehearsal late in the afternoon, and that first moment of launching a choral sound into such a richly-resonant acoustic is always a special one. The lengthy acoustic means there’s no hiding from your own sound; at the end of a piece, you can hear your chord travelling around the Nave, with no opportunity to disguise the tuning! I’m delighted to say that there was nothing to worry about, as we listened a little anxiously to the ends of verses drifting down the Cathedral…
There’s always a lovely sense of occasion at this point in the year, as the University gathers to celebrate and renew the Christmas message, and this year was no exception; a wonderfully evocative service lit both by candles and by music. Congratulations to all those involved, and to the Chamber Choir on delivering a polished set of carols as part of the service.