Music: Chorus of countries

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Sheffield Oratorio Chorus conclude their current concert season with an evening of choral music from Britain and Hungary, with a dash of Germany.

They will present Zoltan Kodály’s Missa Brevis, Three Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda by Gustav Holst and Benjamin Britten’s cantata, Rejoice in the Lamb.

OC musical director Alan Eost will conduct the Holst and Britten pieces.

The cathedral’s acting director of music, Joshua Hales, who is also the chorus’s rehearsal accompanist, takes over for the Kodály piece.

The oldest of the three composers was born Gustav von Holst in 1874, son of a Cheltenham dentist of German descent.

He had become a well-established trombonist, opera repetiteur and teacher long before he shed the ‘von’ on being accepted for active service during the First World War.

His profound interest in theosophy and Hindu religious sagas led Holst to compose these arresting choral settings of the Sanskrit holy writings, the Rig Veda, in his spare time from his day job – director of music at St Paul’s Girls School.

Holst’s slightly younger contemporary Zoltan Kodály had a very different upbringing – his father was a rural stationmaster.

But he mastered seven languages, studied with Debussy and developed a fascination with early polyphony as well as the folksong tradition that is unmissable in many of his works, not least the Missa Brevis.

This he managed to compose during the last weeks of the Second World War, while sheltering from bombardment in the cellars of the Budapest Opera House.

The Missa Brevis had its first performance in altogether more agreeable circumstances – in Worcester, at the 1948 Three Choirs Festival.

Rejoice in the Lamb dates from the early 1940s too. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of a Northampton church, the 30-year old Britten chose to set the idiosyncratic and poignant Jubilate Agno, penned by the East Anglian poet Christopher Smart (1722 – 1771) during his lengthy incarceration in a lunatic asylum.

Deeply religious despite his sad circumstances, Smart wrote this series of poems to celebrate the worship of God by all his creatures.

Probably the most famous verse is his endearing and brilliant evocation of his cat: “For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way/For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness…”

Benjamin Britten’s score for choir and soloists beautifully captures the wit, innocence and liveliness of Smart’s verses.

All but one of the soloists are talented young singers from the SOC’s home city; Molly and Caitlin O’Toole, Tabitha Smart, Nicholas Cox and Timothy Peters.

The exception is the SOC’s own Anthony Trippet. Molly, Tabitha and Timothy will also contribute solo pieces.

“Our Christmas carol concerts have provided a platform for emerging solo voices for the past couple of years,” said Alan Eost. “Now, again, we are delighted to showcase some of the remarkable young singing talent currently available in Sheffield.”

The concert takes place on Saturday, July 8 at 7.30 pm in Sheffield Cathedral.

Tickets can be booked online at, purchased from the Blue Moon Cafe, next to the cathedral, or bought on the door.