<< -- 3 -- Jennifer Paull REMINISCENT RETROSPECTIVES
There are two cathedrals in Liverpool. The first was the Anglican; an
enormous neo-gothic building started about a century ago. Carved from the
local pink sandstone, progress was very slow, as the art of cutting stone
by hand was gradually lost over the years. In 1956, several Hungarian refugees
brought their skills in this art with them to a cathedral and city in sore
need of their help.
The second, the Catholic Cathedral of Christ the King is known locally,
with affection, as the Mersey Funnel. Liverpool sits on the River Mersey
under which lie two road tunnels. This modern, round building does resemble
an upturned funnel with spout mounting to the heavens.
The 'spout' is a tall cylinder of stained glass with a heavy
wrought iron crown of thorns hanging inside. The rest of the building is
in bare concrete with a central altar. As the daylight comes through the
coloured glass panels, it strikes the walls and side chapels with shafts
of vibrant colour.
The consecration of this cathedral was a magical event which has stayed
in my memory with such strength that I can forgive the concrete and recall
the beauty of the moment.
Many artistic events marked the consecration, but this particular concert
was to consist of Bach's Magnificat followed by the first performance
of Berlioz' La Grande Messe des morts, since the composer's
death. Of course, Colin Davies was conducting.
I was thrilled to be playing the beautiful oboe d'amore obligato
to the Dutch singer, Elly Ameling's voice. The second part of the concert
was, however, enough to rattle the circular rafters and I think that's
exactly what it did! Berlioz wrote his Grande Messe des morts in
1836 for the soldiers killed in the Algerian campaign. It illustrates his
romantic love of immensity. Calling for over two hundred voices (with a
preference for seven or eight hundred which was surely the case), an enormous
orchestra, sixteen sets of tympani, twelve harps, organ, four brass bands,
etc, the sound rushed around the circular building and seemed to fly heavenwards
up the funnel spout.
In the years since this moment, never-ending work has been needed to
prevent the stained glass from sinking. The concrete appears to be subsiding
under its weight. I think sound waves were the key factor, not the architect's
calculations! The volume of sound and the richness of the orchestration
would have moved the mountains of Snowdonia, let alone the cylinder of coloured,
heavy glass. Havergal Brian's Gothic Symphony and Mahler's
Symphony of a Thousand were all concerts I remember well around
the same time. However, this was the only one which shook the rafters with
such success that the effect of some long-lost sound waves lives on without
the assistance of a sound engineer.
Copyright © 8 February 2002
Jennifer Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland
JENNIFER PAULL'S AMORIS INTERNATIONAL
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