Last week, Eton’s College Chapel Choir joined forces with the boy choristers and lay clerks from the choir of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. At 5pm on Thursday, the mighty 80-strong chorus shook the walls of College Chapel with Herbert Sumsion’s Evening Service in G and Herbert Howells’ Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing.

Press Officer and Music Correspondent Kasper S told us about the event.

It was a great privilege to sing with the choir of St George’s. Due to COVID, this was the first time in a few years that they were able to come over and join us for evensong so we are very grateful that Mr Johnson and James Vivian (Director of Music at St George’s Chapel) were able to bring us together again.

There are many differences between young boy chorister voices (ages 10-13) and our more experienced trebles (13-15) and it was magnificent to witness this blend, with their voices floating beautifully over the higher register and our senior trebles supporting the lower notes. Working with adult professional lay clerks inspired excellent singing out of the back rows too, with the tenor and bass sections producing a jubilant sound.

We look forward to more collaborations between the choirs of Eton and St George’s in the coming year, including a joint concert up at the castle in September.

Tim Johnson, Precentor, Eton College

The service began and ended with Howells’ Psalm Prelude and Paean, skilfully played by Eton’s Organist James Orford.

After the Prelude, the choir sang the sacred and exciting Ubi Caritas by Maurice Duruflé, where the sound alternates between Decani and Cantoris with a mighty middle section where everyone sings together.

After the first set of responses and choir psalm, it was over to Sumsion to provide a stunning set of canticles, starting with the Magnificat. This opens with just the trebles, displaying their talents as they glide to the top of their range before the tenors come in, repeating their phrase with the same elegance.

Then the Nunc Dimittis, which starts with a longer treble passage, which was sung with confidence and grace by the Eton and St George’s trebles. Then finally for the choir, the pinnacle, which was Howell’s Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing, followed by an angelic descant in the hymn The day thou gavest, Lord is Ended.

Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing is an unaccompanied 20th century anthem by Herbert Howells. Its sombre tone reflects its intended purpose as a memorial anthem for John F Kennedy after he was assassinated.  

Altos, tenors and basses start with a dark tune, singing in octaves. The trebles join and the piece slowly develops with many twists and turns before the ghost of this tune comes back near the end of the piece and builds into a climax, which slowly fades into silence. It was an incredible performance and an excellent choice for this ensemble.

The experience of singing with a choir of this status is such a rich one, with one fellow Eton chorister commenting on how rich the sound was and how he ‘loved singing together with so many incredible singers’.

Tim Johnson, Precentor at Eton, said, ‘it was such a pleasure for us to welcome the Choir of St George’s Chapel and their Director of Music, James Vivian. The combined choir of around 80 voices produced a wonderful sound.’

Thank you very much to the choir of St George’s Chapel for this wonderful experience. I’m sure anyone who made it to the service was blown away and I hope we can welcome St George’s back next year to continue this marvellous tradition.