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<<  -- 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.

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Copyright © 8 February 2002 Jennifer Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland





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