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  Richard Pantcheff

Choral and organ works - The Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford


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1 Te Deum (‘Aedis Christi’) for men’s voices and organ

This setting of the Te Deum Laudamus was commissioned by Stephen Darlington for the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, in the spring of 1999.  Composition on the work started in April 1999, and by the summer of that year the Te Deum was complete.  It is unusual for a setting to be written for men’s voices but there are occasions in the Cathedral’s year when the Gentlemen of the Choir sing without the trebles, and there is a dearth of settings for men’s voices: hence the request for this work.

The Te Deum is an unusual canticle in being one which comprises three separate prayers, joined together.  The structure of the Aedis Christi setting follows that pattern, with the first and third prayers having broadly similar tempos and themes.  The central section (‘Thou art the King of Glory...’) moves at a faster tempo, with more dramatic music, the climax being ‘We therefore pray thee help thy servants, whom thou has redeemed with thy precious blood’.  Thereafter, the work moves off into a lyrical finale, where the singers repeat the request for God’s mercy.  The ending is quiet, supplicatory, and profound, returning to the home key of B flat major.

The Te Deum (‘Aedis Christi’) was first performed by the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, on 13 February 2000. 

2 The ‘Frankfurt’ Responses

This setting of the Responses was commissioned by Kathleen Berthold, Organist of the Episcopal Church in Frankfurt, Germany, in February 1994.  The Episcopal Church in Frankfurt has a long tradition of musical excellence, as well as being renowned for its espousal of contemporary works.  The work was complete by April 1994 and immediately went into rehearsal with the choir in Frankfurt.  It contains an original part for the cantor, which on occasions overlaps with the music sung by the choir. 

The first performance took place at Choral Evensong in the Episcopal Church in Frankfurt on 27 August 1994.  The UK premiere was in Canterbury Cathedral on 1 September 1994, followed immediately by a number of performances in Salisbury Cathedral.

3 Drop thy still dews

This short anthem for SATB and organ started off life as a setting for unison voices and organ, and the first and third sections of the work still have upper voices and lower voices grouped together, even in the later SATB version.  However, the middle section of the work was turned into four-part harmony in the later version, in keeping with the words, which are taken from the well-known hymn ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’.

The work was written for the Choir of All Hallows’ Church, Whitchurch, who first performed it at the Church of St James the Less, Litchfield, in March 1993.  Following its publication in 1994, it has been sung in Whitchurch and elsewhere many times, including Germany and the US. 

4 Laudem dicite 

Laudem dicite was commissioned by the Choir of the Episcopal Church, Frankfurt, originally for the Choir’s visit to the American Cathedral in Paris for the Convocation of American Churches in 1997.  However, the work never made it to Paris, and was held over for the Choir’s next tour, which was to Rome in June 1998.  The words are taken from Revelation XIX vv5-7 and 1 Peter II v9, which form part of the Vespers Responsory for All Saints Day. This joyful work, in which the voices sound out the praises of the Saints in the manner of brass fanfares, is for unaccompanied SATB choir.  The first performance (in readiness for the planned performances in Rome) took place in the Episcopal Church in Frankfurt on 7 June 1998.  Immediately thereafter, the work was sung at the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore and St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Rome on 13 and 14 June 1998, respectively.  The first UK performance of the work was by the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, on 23 March 2001. 

5-8 Four communion interludes, for organ 

These short works for organ were written at the suggestion of my publisher, Kevin Mayhew.  Composition commenced in Frankfurt at the end of December 1993, and all four pieces were finished by the end of January 1994.  They are dedicated to Dr Kenneth Pankhurst: polymath, scientist, musician, and Director of Music at All Hallows’ Church, Whitchurch, during the 1980s, who died in 2001.  In the original manuscripts, each piece is headed up by a biblical inscription (the final titles of the pieces being added just prior to publication).  The transfiguration bears the inscription ‘The Lord is here, his Spirit is with us’.  The pilgrimage is sub-titled ‘1 Corinthians 13, v12’;  Phos hilaron ‘Hebrews 11, v1’; and Cibus mundi ‘1 Peter 2, v24’. Kenneth Pankhurst performed all four of the pieces at the organ of St Mary's Church, Tufton, Hampshire, in Lent 1994.

9 Credo in unum Deum 

It is more usual for settings of the Creed to appear as part of a full setting of the Mass, and indeed this Credo did start out as part of an earlier complete Mass (Missa Urbs Beata), written in 1986. The Mass itself has not been performed, and has been withdrawn.  This Creed was stylistically out of place in the larger work, but seemed to me to be worth revising for performance as an independent work because of its rather unusual combination of modern harmonies and plainsong vocal writing.  The thematic material in the piece is based heavily upon the plainsong hymn 'Urbs Beata'.  It can be sung by any combination of forces, with organ, and on this recording it features the gentlemen of the Choir.

10 Hymn to the Virgin 

Such was the success and interest generated by the short anthem Drop thy still dews [3] that a companion piece was composed for it in the spring of 1993.  Hymn to the Virgin was also written in Whitchurch, Hampshire, for the Choir of All Hallows’ Church.  However, a move to Frankfurt meant that the first performance did not take place in Whitchurch, and in the spring of 1994 it was published by Kevin Mayhew.  Prior to publication it was performed by the Choir of the Episcopal Church in Frankfurt at the Festival Service of Nine Lessons and Carols on 19 December 1993.  The words are taken from the 13th century English poem made famous in other musical settings by composers including Britten and Rubbra.

11-12 Evening Service in D major (‘The Whitchurch Canticles’) 

In the 1980s, the Hampshire town of Whitchurch traditionally had a biennial Flower Festival centred on All Hallows’ Church, and in 1988 it was decided that there would be a Festival Concert at the church, featuring the church choir and a number of visiting choirs from the area.  The Whitchurch Evening Canticles were written for this concert, completed by the late spring of 1989 and first performed at the Flower Festival on 23 September 1989.  It has since been performed by several cathedral choirs, including those of Winchester, Glasgow, and Christ Church, Oxford.  The work is designed to reflect the pastoral environment of Whitchurch, its beautiful rural surroundings, and emphasises very much the peace and tranquillity of the words.

13-15 from Four pieces for organ, set 1 

Shortly after requesting the Four communion pieces [5-8], Kevin Mayhew suggested writing four larger pieces which could be performed as processionals or recessionals at the beginning or end of services.  Work started on the first of the four (Paean) in January 1994, in Frankfurt.  The other three followed in quick succession, with the final work finished by the end of February 1994.  These works are on a grander scale than the Four communion interludes, and are designed to show off the range and dynamism of the organ.  The works were published in the summer of 1994. 

16 Turn again then unto thy rest

For many months prior to his death, my father had been quite specific about which hymns and Psalms he wanted for his funeral, and so when the time came for this in December 1989, the choir at St Anne’s Church Alderney, Channel Islands, duly sang Psalm 116 to Anglican chant.  The words of this Psalm seem to be such a good summing up of a life of service that I felt I should also set them as a short motet in memory of him.  So it was, therefore, that this short unaccompanied motet came into existence in December 1989.

It lay unperformed until taken up by the choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford for this recording.  The first performance took place at Evensong in Christ Church, on 6 March 2001.

17 King Henry VIII’s apologia

Stephen Darlington commissioned this new work in 1996 for the 450th anniversary celebrations of the founding of Christ Church, Oxford, by Henry VIII in 1546.  The work was premiered in the Hall of Christ Church on 2 November 1996, when it was sung as a Grace by the Cathedral Choir.  The words are attributed to King Henry VIII, and appear amongst the King’s poetry in ‘Music and Poetry in the early Tudor Court’ by John Stevens (Cambridge, 1961).  In the poem, the King seeks to deflect potential criticism of his youthful behaviour by drawing attention to his constancy in marriage (!), and the fact that he has hurt no man. He further questions whether the reader is likely to have behaved any better in his youth than Henry has.  This note of self-justification is the cause of the work’s title, and it informs much of the stridency and lyricism of the music.

18 Palm Sunday processional, for organ

This piece was written in the early part of 1998, amongst a large number of organ works requested by Kevin Mayhew at the time, and appeared in a publication later that year.  The work combines a number of musical themes associated with Palm Sunday: the triumphant announcement of the arrival of Christ in Jerusalem; the journey, starting from afar, and slowly coming closer to the city; and finally the shouts of ‘Hosanna in Excelsis!’.

Richard Pantcheff




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