Thursday, July 09, 2009

Metropolitan Cathedral of Edinburgh

A press release concerning Vespers at St Mary's RC Cathedral in Edinburgh on 15th August during the Edinburgh International Festival Fringe.

A photograph of Mgr Regan (centre back) and the Schola Sanctae Margaritae (AKA the Edinburgh Schola - seated) is attached for your use. Credit: Claire Hamid

The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption will be celebrating its patronal feast day with a celebration of Vêspres de la Vierge (Op.18) by Marcel Dupré. This is an exciting work for organ and Gregorian chant which will be performed by the internationally acclaimed cathedral organist, Simon Nieminski, and the Schola Sanctae Margaritae, a group which performs and promotes Gregorian chant within the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh. The event will not only be significant as the patronal feast of St Mary’s Cathedral but also as a significant 90th anniversary performance in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe on the new Matthew Copley organ.

The officiant at Vespers will be the cathedral administrator, Mgr Michael Regan, who will be assisted by six coped clerics according to the ceremonies of the usus antiquior. Unfortunately His Eminence, Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien, will be out of the country in mid-August but he has kindly given his blessing to the celebration.

The work is a significant one from both a musical and liturgical perspective. It came into being when Claude Johnson, one of the original directors of Rolls Royce, chanced to be in Paris in August 1919. On the Feast of the Assumption he went to the Cathedral of Notre-Dame for Vespers. On that day the Organiste Titulaire, Louis Vierne, was replaced by Marcel Dupré, the former ceding the console to the latter for the purpose of testing his skill at improvisation. Dupré’s performance, by all accounts, did not disappoint his mentor.

So impressed was Johnson by what he had heard, that, upon his return to England, he contacted Dupré to ask how he might obtain a copy of the music. When the composer replied that the entire thing had been improvised, Johnson immediately offered a commission for their committal to paper.

Whereas during most of their history after publication they tended to be heard as a series of pieces for organ, their original place was in liturgical context. It was in 1994 that the late Dr Mary Berry CBE, Director of the Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge, embarked upon a project to reintroduce the Versets into their proper liturgical context, recording them later that year in Notre-Dame de Paris, with Philippe Lefèbvre, Titulaire of the Cathedral at the Grandes Orgues, and David Hill on the chamber organ. (Herald: HAVPCD170). The organ is treated as a liturgical voice, taking up the reprise of the antiphon after each of the five psalms, and basing its improvisation on the melody of the original chant of the antiphon: canon, chorale etc,. The Schola and organ alternate throughout the hymn, Ave Maris Stella, the organ offering the most varied of treatments of the melody. This alternation continues throughout the Magnificat, with the organ, rather than improvising on the chant, engaging in interpreting parts of the text.

Rounded off by the concluding Preces and the Salve Regina, the whole Office comes together to provide an uplifting – even at times breathtaking – celebration of one of the major feasts in the Church’s calendar. Nothing is left out, nothing is left to chance, and every element – every voice – integrates perfectly. It will be fitting to here a work of such quality and which musically expresses the renaissance within the Church of organic development in Edinburgh for her cathedral’s patronal feast and during the world’s largest cultural festival.

Vespers will begin at 4pm and will be followed by a free organ and guitar recital at 5pm.

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