This recording is St. Bride's choir's gift to John Oates on the occasion of his retirement as Rector, in acknowledgement of the enormous support he has given to our musical tradition over the past sixteen years. This will surely be regarded as one of the most important parts of his legacy to St.Bride's. He is a man of great enthusiasms, never missing an opportunity to introduce a favourite piece of music into a service - the repertoire for this recording virtually chose itself!
The only items featured here to be heard regularly in St. Bride's before John's arrival are Walford Davies's exquisitely simple setting of the 16th century prayer, "God be in my head", and Mendelssohn's "Hear my prayer", both pieces sometimes associated with our Fleet Street neighbours at the Temple Church, although a performance of Mendelssohn's famous setting of verses from Psalm 55 using a soprano soloist is actually closer to the composer's original concept than the use of a boy treble.
Within a short time of his arrival, John had managed to organise a choir tour to the U.S.A. in 1988, and the Mozart "Gloria", which opens our disc, was a centrepiece of the concert programmes. The English translation was made during the 19th century by the Rev. James Baden Powell, presumably a forbear of the founder of the Scout movement. Its use reflects the fact that St.Bride's, under John's leadership, is one of the last remaining churches in the country regularly to use a full choral setting of the traditional texts of the Eucharist in English.
Fauré's "Cantique de Jean Racine" has a beautiful French text, which refers to voices of praise breaking through the clouds of darkness. This sentiment reminds me of John's innovation, early in his ministry at St. Bride's, of holding a full choral dawn service on Easter Day. The fact that this service has often seen one of the highest turnouts of regular choir members of the whole year is further testimony to his powers of persuasion!
The importance of Easter to John, and his living belief in the Resurrection, is further acknowledged here by our inclusion of Mascagni's "Easter Hymn", which has become a great showpiece for the choir in recent years. The operatic idiom is well suited to a group of singers including individuals who have sung within the past year at Covent Garden and Glyndebourne The fact that they are still willing to take their place in the choir on Sundays has been a constant source of delight to John.
Continuing in operatic vein, we also include Delibes' Flower Duet from his opera Lakmé (made famous by its use in a British Airways advertisement), which is a frequently requested item at weddings.
Another constant theme of John's faith and ministry is thanksgiving for and remembrance of those who have gone before us - the saints of the Church, and ordinary worshippers. Both elements are represented here; the first by Stainer's "How beautiful upon the mountains", a setting of a text from Isaiah commonly used on saints' days, and the second by Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Pie Jesu" with its text from the traditional Requiem Mass.
It seems right and proper that this disc is dominated by music heard principally on Sundays and great festivals. It is also important to include music for the many memorial services held at St. Bride's, which are such important parts of our ministry. This is represented, both by the conventional - Stanford's beautiful "Nunc Dimittis in G", which concludes many such occasions - and by the more unusual: arrangements of "Swing low, sweet chariot" and "The Parting Glass". These are early examples of John's ability to blend lighter music into memorials, giving them a personal flavour without detracting from the solemnity of the event.
John's musical taste is unashamedly populist, yet he has often been capable of surprising us with an enthusiastic response to a very obscure piece. One of the most memorable examples of this was the occasion on which he overheard Bob Bryan and me rehearsing "0 Maria, quae rapis corda hominum", by Finetti (a 17th century Italian composer so unknown that he fails to feature in most musical reference books), which we were about to perform in Germany. John insisted that we should sing it as part of a Sermon in Music at Evensong that day, also that it should appear on the next choir recording - a mission which we are now delighted to have accomplished!
He always hoped that the musicians of St. Bride's would produce a recording that featured a wide variety of contrasting pieces from our repertoire, and we all hope that this offering fits the bill. We hope too that it will give John, and all others who love St. Bride's and its music, many happy memories of a remarkable era in the church's history.