Vaughan Williams - ‘O Taste and See’: Full Works Concert Highlight of the Week

From four centuries of royal music, Vaughan Williams provides a moment of quiet reflection.

It’s a week for commemoration on the Full Works Concert, with two very special concerts. Thursday’s performance from St. Pauls' Cathedral of the Blitz Requiem is certainly one to look forward to, but on Friday, the venue changes to the beautiful and surprisingly intimate setting of St.George’s Chapel Windsor for the Coronation Concert, which formed part of this year’s Windsor Festival.

It was at the suggestion of the Festival’s Patron, HRH the Earl of Wessex, that this year's festivities should celebrate the events of 60 years ago, and reflect the mood of the nation in 1953. The concert of choral music represents not just what occurred in Westminster Abbey on 2 June 1953 but it’s also an acknowledgement of the dominance of English choral music for more than four centuries. The long and hugely successful tradition is represented by distinguished composers from William Byrd and Georg Frederic Handel to the best contemporary composers of the time including Herbert Howells and William Walton. The concert on Friday also includes the music of Bob Chilcott and his piece composed for the Coronation’s anniversary, ‘The King Shall Rejoice’.  This range of styles, along with the intended role for each piece within the Coronation itself, makes for a surprisingly varied concert contrasting the grandiose and anthemic with the intimate and contemplative. 

It is with the music of Vaughan Williams that this is most marked.  You’ll hear the uplifting congregational ‘All People that on earth do dwell’ sung to Vaughan Williams’s setting of The Old Hundredth psalm tune, but immediately before it there is the quietly moving 'O Taste and See'.  This was specially written by the composer for the 1953 service – it was his suggestion – and it was intended as a foil for the pomp of the royal occasion. His setting of Psalm 34, sung in the Abbey during the taking of Communion, features a treble solo. You’ll hear the voice of a former Young Chorister of the Year and Joint Head Chorister of the Choir of The Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy, Richard Decker, in one of the highlights from the Windsor Festival Coronation Celebration. The consoling words of the text, and Vaughan’s Williams’s flowing soaring vocal line makes this short motet one of his best loved works, and for me marks a highlight in a superb choral concert not to be missed.