A top London tourist tip: why not attend a church service in one of HM Chapels Royal ? Avoiding the considerable entrance fees which tourists pay, you can see the capital’s wonders – Hampton Court, St James’, The Tower – with added atmosphere. The Tower of London has two Chapels Royal, and it’s quite amazing after hours to enter the vast Tower campus empty of visitors, and make your way round its grim environs. As an added plus, St Peter ad Vincula’s small professional choir, under Colm Carey, must be one of the best around, and the Chapel, size-wise, is intimate and good for listening.
It’s not pleasant of course to reflect that the church memorials commemorate people who were brutally killed very close by; three ex-wives of King Henry VIII plus Saints Thomas More and John Fisher, for instance. There’s inevitably a melancholy atmosphere about the place, which well suited a concert titled Songs of Farewell, given by the choir in collaboration with Contemporary Music Centre Dublin; a WW1 commemoration with an Irish slant.
In a very thoughtful programme, works by contemporary Irish composers had been inserted between the six Songs of Farewell by Sir C H H Parry. It was a great idea. Parry’s composition expressed his ‘incredulity.. his profound sense of betrayal’ at the ‘unfolding catastrophe’ of the war (so the excellent programme note explained). But his music is so gorgeous that its motivation could be disregarded; it gained a great deal from the intervening grit of the new works by Seamas de Barra, Anne-Marie O’Farrell, Eoghan Desmond, Rhona Clarke and David Coonan. The texts for these had been chosen with exquisite care. In particular I couldn’t get over Oscar Wilde’s Requiescat (music by David Coonan) recalling the death of Wilde's ten year old sister. Leaving the brutal Tower buildings at the end (with real-life surly wardens unlocking the gates rather unwillingly) I felt uplifted by this civilised visit from our Irish neighbours.