Sounds of the Fifties

Come and  join us as we explore the Sounds of the Fifties. You might be surprised!

The last in the CBS series of concerts tracing choral music through the twentieth century takes us into the 1950s – the new ‘Elizabethan Age’ as it was called at the time in the UK. The era of Elvis (who we haven’t quite managed to fit in) and of West Side Story, one of the most enduring works of the twentieth century.

Leonard Bernstein (currently the focus of the Hollywood movie Maestro) composed his take on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet at the end of the 1950s, transporting the scene to New York and changing the rival families into leather-jacketed gangs. Less well known is that the lyrics were by Stephen Sondheim! These two giants of twentieth-century music produced a new slant on the musical which has remained a firm favourite and CBS will perform a choral suite including songs such as ‘There’s a place for us’, ‘I like to be in America’ and ‘I feel pretty’.

As usual, CBS combines this music with ‘classical’ music of the era. The early 50s saw the Coronation of Elizabeth II. From A Garland for the Queen, a set of partsongs commissioned from various British composers to mark that event, CBS will sing Vaughan Williams’ spellbinding Silence and Music which creates an immense stillness with its spare textures; and John Ireland’s warm evocation of English landscape The Hills. Crossing back to the USA, Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs will involve the choir in various animal impersonations in ‘I bought me a cat’ and will include other, more tranquil pieces too. Michael Tippett’s lively arrangement of Lillibulero takes us to Ireland as part of this whistle-stop tour.

And we’re going to cheat! Focusing a concert on the 1950s offers the chance to cast light on some composers born in that decade who are still with us. Foremost, Master of the King’s Music, Dame Judith Weir. Her set of choral pieces The Song Sung True is all about music and was composed for a choir in London with a very similar makeup to CBS. It is a varied and tuneful set of short movements culminating in a very upbeat setting of Edward Lear’s The Old Man of the Isles. This comes complete with fiddle and bagpipe impressions which reflect Dame Judith’s Scots ancestry. Also represented is Martin Bussey, with his set of three songs, Roses, composed for CBS in 2009. These set poems about roses by ‘old’ Elizabethans – Edmund Waller, William Shakespeare and the celebrated ‘Anon’!

Handel’s Messiah: Meet the Soloists

On 20th April, Chester Bach Singers are performing Handel’s Messiah – a special fundraising concert conducted by Martin Bussey and accompanied by Graham Eccles, arguably the finest organist in Northwest England and North Wales.

This glorious oratorio gives us the opportunity to feature solo performances by a number of our choir members, some of whom already have fond memories of Handel’s best loved work.

Standing Left to Right: Veronica Ierston, Sean Tighe, Anna Saunders, Hannah Symons, Kristine Jenkins, Linda Curran, Ian Mander, Matthew Pace, Clive Nicholson, Tom Rozario, Tom Salmon. Sitting: Imogen Parsley, Natasha Hendrickse-Welsh.

Many of the choir have a long association with the piece. As Clive Nicholson recalls, “I’ve sung Messiah more times than I have fingers to count on. But I have a feeling that this year may be the 50th anniversary of my first Messiah!”

For Sean Tighe and Ian Mander, the memories go back to their days as boy choristers. Ian recalls that he first sang Messiah “as a treble at St Mary’s choir in Warwick at the ripe old age of 9. It was also the first thing I sang after I’d had a break from singing and come back as a tenor.” Sean had an equally early start. “The first time I sang it I was 12 – a boy soprano. This is now the fifth time I’ve done Messiah ... and I’ve done solos in it three times.”

For Veronica Ierston, the first Messiah solo was particularly memorable. “It was a very, very cold evening and I had to sit there through the first and second parts in my coat – then take off my coat and get up to sing this one piece then go straight back to my place and put my coat back on!”

Tom Salmon, on the other hand, had a very different first solo – as probably the loudest member of the orchestra! “The first time I sang Messiah was at school. And I also remember it was my job to play the timpani in the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’. It was great fun ... but my only ever performance as a timpanist!”

Hannah Symons has particularly fond memories of her first performance. “I first sang Messiah back in 2014 in Winchester cathedral. A sold-out performance and a standing ovation at the end. One of the most incredible performances I’ve ever been part of, so it’s got a very special place in my heart.”

And for Natasha Hendrickse Welsh this performance will be a return to very familiar territory, “I first sang Messiah when I was about 16 – and I think it may have been under this self-same conductor!”

Chair of Chester Back Singers, Helen Crich, explained why this fundraising performance is so important to the choir, saying that “as well as striving to achieve the highest standards in our performances, we are also proud to have consistently delivered in three other important areas.

“First, is our commitment to raise the profile of works by women and contemporary composers. Second, is to support and encourage the next generation of young choral talent. And third, is to perform a large-scale choral work at least once every two years.

“Each of these requires us to raise additional funding above and beyond the subscriptions paid by choir members and concert ticket sales. So, I would like to thank everyone who has bought a ticket to Messiah or given a donation to the choir – every penny you have given will make a real difference. Thank you.”

The Dream of Gerontius: Behind the scenes

Here's some behind the scenes footage of Chester Bach Singers’ joint performance with Chester Philharmonic Orchestra and Cantiones - Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius at Chester Cathedral.

You'll also hear our three prestigious soloists in action – Kathryn RudgeJames Platt, and Joshua Ellicott.

It's the day of the concert, and final rehearsals are in full swing ...

The text of Edward Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius,  from the poem by Cardinal John Henry Newman.



Jesu, Maria – I am near to death,
And Thou art calling me; I know it now,
Not by the token of this faltering breath,
This chill at heart, this dampness on my brow –
(Jesu, have mercy! Mary, pray for me)
’Tis this new feeling, never felt before,
(Be with me, Lord, in my extremity!)
That I am going, that I am no more.
’Tis this strange innermost abandonment,
(Lover of souls! great God! I look to Thee.)
This emptying out of each constituent
And natural force, by which I come to be.
Pray for me, O my friends: a visitant
is knocking his dire summons at my door,
The like of whom, to scare me and to daunt
Has never, never come to me before;
So pray for me, my friends, who have not strength to pray. 


Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison. Holy Mary, pray for him.
All holy Angels, pray for him.
Choirs of the righteous, pray for him. 
All Apostles, all Evangelists, pray for him, 
All holy Disciples of the Lord, pray for him. 
All holy Innocents, pray for him.
All holy Martyrs, all holy Confessors, 
All holy Hermits, all holy virgins, All ye Saints of God, pray for him. 


Rouse thee, my fainting soul, and play the man; 
and through such waning span
Of life and thought as still has to be trod, 
Prepare to meet thy God. 
And while the storm of that bewilderment 
Is for a season spent
And, ere afresh the ruin on me fall,
Use well the interval. 


Be merciful, be gracious; spare him, Lord, 
Be merciful, be gracious; Lord, deliver him. 
From the sins that are past;
From Thy frown and Thine ire; 
From the perils of dying; 
From any complying With sin, or denying
His God or relying 
On self, at the Last;
From the nethermost fire; 
From all that is evil;
From power of the devil;
Thy servant deliver,
For once and for ever.
By Thy birth, and by Thy Cross 
Rescue him from endless loss; 
By Thy death and burial,
Save him from a final fall;
By Thy rising from the tomb, By Thy mounting up above, 
By the Spirit’s gracious love 
Save him in the day of doom. 


Sanctus fortis, Sanctus Deus, 
De profundis oro te, 
Miserere, Judex meus,
Parce mihi, Domine. 
Firmly I believe and truly
God is Three, and God is One; 
And I next acknowledge duly Manhood taken by the Son.
And I trust and hope most fully
In that Manhood crucified:
And each thought and deed unruly 
Do to death, as He has died. 
Simply to His Grace and wholly Light and life and strength belong. 
And I love, supremely, solely,
Him the holy, Him the strong. 

Sanctus fortis, Sanctus Deus, 
De profundis oro te, 
Miserere, Judex meus,
Parce mihi, Domine, 
And I hold in veneration,
For the love of Him alone, 
Holy Church, as His creation, 
And her teachings, as His own. 
And I take with joy whatever 
Now besets me, pain or fear, 
And with a strong will I sever 
All the ties which bind me here. 

Adoration aye be given,
With and through the angelic host,
To the God of earth and heaven,
Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
Sanctus fortis, Sanctus Deus,
De profundis oro te,
Miserere, Judex meus,
Mortis in discrimine.
I can no more; for now it comes again,
That sense of ruin, which is worse than pain, 
That masterful negation and collapse
Of all that makes me man.
... And, crueller still,
A fierce and restless fright begins to fill
The mansion of my soul,
And, worse and worse,
Some bodily form of ill floats on the wind, 
with many a loathsome curse
Tainting the hallowed air, and laughs,
and flaps its hideous wings,
And makes me wild with horror and dismay. 
O Jesu, help! pray for me, Mary, pray! 
Some Angel, Jesu! such as came to Thee
In Thine own agony ...
Mary, pray for me. Joseph, pray for me. 
Mary, pray for me. 


Rescue him, O Lord, in this his evil hour,
As of old so many by Thy gracious power: – 
Noe from the waters in a saving home; 

Job from all his multiform and fell distress; 
Moses from the land of bondage and despair; 
David from Golia and the wrath of Saul; 
... So, to show Thy power,
Rescue this Thy servant in his evil hour. 


Novissima hora est and I fain would sleep,
The pain has wearied me ... 
Into Thy hands O Lord, into Thy hands ... 

Priest and Assistants 

Proficiscere, anima Christiana, de hoc mundo! 
Go forth upon thy journey, Christian soul!
Go from this world! Go, in the Name of God 
The Omnipotent Father, Who created thee! 
Go, in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord, 
Son of the living God, Who bled for Thee! 
Go, in the Name of the Holy Spirit,
Who Hath been poured out on thee!
Go in the name 
Of Angels and Archangels; in the name
Of Thrones and Dominations; in the name Of Princedoms and of Powers;
and in the name
Of Cherubim and Seraphim; go forth!
Go, in the name of Patriarchs and Prophets! 
And of Apostles and Evangelists,
Of Martyrs and Confessors, in the name
Of holy Monks and Hermits; in the name
Of holy Virgins; and all Saints of God.
Both men and women, go! Go on thy course; 
And may thy place today be found in peace, 
And may thy dwelling be the Holy Mount
Of Sion: through the Same, through Christ 
Our Lord. 


Soul of Gerontius 

I went to sleep; and now I am refreshed.
A strange refreshment for I feel in me
An inexpressive lightness, and a sense
Of freedom, as I were at length myself,
And ne’er had been before. How still it is!
I hear no more the busy beat of time,
No, nor my fluttering breath, nor struggling pulse; 
Nor does one moment differ from the next. 
This silence pours a solitariness
Into the very essence of my soul:
And the deep rest so soothing and so sweet 
Hath something too of sternness and of pain. 
Another marvel: Someone has me fast 
Within his ample palm; ...
... A uniform
And gentle pressure tells me I am not Self-moving, but borne forward on my way, 
And hark! I hear a singing; yet in sooth
I cannot of that music rightly say
Whether I hear, or touch, or taste the tones. 
Oh, what a heart-subduing melody! 


My work is done,
My task is o’er,
And so l come,
Taking it home,
For the crown is won, Alleluia. For evermore. 

My Father gave
In charge to me This child of earth 
E’en from its birth, 
To serve and save, 
And saved is he. 
This child of clay
To me was given,
To rear and train 
By sorrow and pain 
In the narrow way, 
From earth to heaven. 


It is a member of that family
Of wondrous beings, who,
Ere the world were made,
Millions of ages back, have stood around 
The throne of God. 
I will address him,
Mighty One, my Lord,
My Guardian Spirit all hail! 


All hail, my child!
My child and brother, 
Hail! what wouldest thou! 


I would have nothing but to speak with thee
For speaking’s sake. I wish to hold with thee 
Conscious communion; though I fain would know 
A maze of things, were it but meet to ask,
And not a curiousness. 


You cannot now
Cherish a wish which ought not to be wished. 


Then I will speak.
I ever had believed
That on the moment when the struggling soul 
Quitted its mortal case, forthwith it fell
Under the awful Presence of its God,
There to be judged and sent to its own place. 
What lets me now from going to my Lord! 


Thou art not let but with extremest speed 
Art hurrying to the Just and Holy Judge. 


Dear Angel, say,
Why have I now no fear of meeting Him! 
Along my earthly life, the thought of death 
And judgement was to me most terrible. 


It is because
Then thou didst fear, that now thou dost not fear, 
Thou hast forestalled the agony, and so
For thee the bitterness of death is passed.
Also, because already in thy soul
The judgement is begun. 

A presage falls upon thee, as a ray
Straight from the Judge, expressive of thy lot. 
That calm and joy uprising in thy soul
Is first-fruit to thee of thy recompense,
And heaven begun. 


Now that the hour is come, my fear is fled; 
And at this balance of my destiny,
Now close upon me, I can forward look 
With a serenest joy. 
But hark! upon my senses
Comes a fierce hubbub, which would make me fear 
Could I be frighted. 


We are now arrived
Close on the judgement-court; that sullen howl 
Is from the demons who assemble there 
Hungry and wild, to claim their property,
And gather souls for hell. 
Hist to their cry! 


How sour and how uncouth a dissonance! 


Low-born clods
Of brute earth, They aspire 
To become gods,
By a new birth,
And an extra grace,
And a score of merits,
As if aught
Could stand in place
Of the high thought
And the glance of fire
Of the great spirits,
The powers blest,
The lords by right,
The primal owners,
Of the proud dwelling
And realm of light – 
Aside thrust,
Chucked down,
By the sheer might
Of a despot’s will,
Of a tyrant’s frown,
Who after expelling
Their hosts, gave, 
Triumphant still,
And still unjust
Each forfeit crown
To psalm-droners,
And canting groaners
To every slave,
And pious cheat
And crawling knave,
Who licked the dust
Under his feet. 


It is the restless panting of their being;
Like beasts of prey, who, caged within their bars, 
In a deep hideous purring have their life,
And an incessant pacing to and fro. 


The mind bold
And independent
The purpose free,
So we are told,
Must not think
To have the ascendant. 
What’s a saint?
One whose breath
Doth the air taint
Before his death;
A bundle of bones, 
Which fools adore,
Ha! Ha!
When life is o’er.
Virtue and vice,
A knave’s pretence.
’Tis all the same;
Ha! ha!
Dread of hell-fire,
Of the venomous flame, A coward’s plea.
Give him his price,
Saint though he be,
Ha! ha!
From shrewd good sense He’ll slave for hire;
Ha! Ha!
And does but aspire
To the heaven above With sordid aim,
And not from love.
Ha! ha! 


I see not those false spirits; shall I see
My dearest Master, when I reach His throne! 


Yes – for one moment thou shalt see thy Lord. 
One moment but thou knowest not my child, 
What thou dost ask: that sight of the Most Fair 
Will gladden thee, but it will pierce thee, too. 


Thou speakest darkly, Angel! and an awe 
Falls on me, and a fear lest I be rash. 


There was a Mortal, who is now above
In the mid glory: he, when near to die,
Was given communion with the Crucified –
Such, that the Master’s very wounds were stamped 
Upon his flesh; and, from the agony
Which thrilled through body and soul in that embrace, 
Learn that the flame of the Everlasting Love
Doth burn ere it transform ... 

Choir of Angelicals 

... Praise to the Holiest in the height And in the depth be praise: 


... Hark to those sounds!
They come of tender beings angelical, 
Least and most childlike of the sons of God. 

Choir of Angelicals 

Praise to the Holiest in the height 
And in the depth be praise:
In all His words most wonderful: 
Most sure in all His ways! 

To us His elder race He gave
To battle and to win,
Without the chastisement of pain, 
Without the soil of sin. 

The younger son He willed to be 
A marvel in His birth:
Spirit and flesh His parents were; 
His home was heaven and earth. 

The Eternal blessed His child, and armed, 
And sent Him hence afar,
To serve as champion in the field
Of elemental war. 

To be His Viceroy in the world
Of matter, and of sense;
Upon the frontier, towards the foe, 
A resolute defence. 


We now have passed the gate, and are within 
The House of Judgement ... 


The sound is like the rushing of the wind – 
The summer wind – among the lofty pines. 

Choir of Angelicals 

Glory to Him, Who evermore
By truth and justice reigns;
Who tears the soul from out its case, 
And burns away its stains! 


They sing of thy approaching agony, 
Which thou so eagerly didst question of. 


My soul is in my hand: I have no fear –
But hark! a grand mysterious harmony:
It floods me, like the deep and solemn sound 
Of many waters. 


And now the threshold, as we traverse it 
Utters aloud its glad responsive chant. 

Choir of Angelicals 

Praise to the Holiest in the height And in the depth be praise;
In all His words most wonderful; Most sure in all His ways! 

O loving wisdom of our God! 
When all was sin and shame, 
A second Adam to the fight 
And to the rescue came. 

O wisest love! that flesh and blood 
Which did in Adam fail,
Should strive afresh against the foe, 
Should strive and should prevail; 

And that a higher gift than grace 
Should flesh and blood refine, 
God’s Presence and His very Self, 
And Essence all divine. 

O gen’rous love! that He who smote 
In man for man the foe,
The double agony in man
For man should undergo; 

And in the garden secretly,
And on the cross on high,
Should teach His brethren and inspire 
To suffer and to die. 

Praise to the Holiest in the height 
And in the depth be praise:
In all His words most wonderful; 
Most sure in all His ways! 


Thy judgement now is near, for we are come 
Into the veiled presence of our God. 


I hear the voices that I left on earth. 


It is the voice of friends around thy bed, 
Who say the “Subvenite” with the priest. 
Hither the echoes come; before the Throne 
Stands the great Angel of the Agony, 

The same who strengthened Him, what time He knelt 
Lone in the garden shade, bedewed with blood. 
That Angel best can plead with Him for all 
Tormented souls, the dying and the dead. 

Angel of the Agony 

Jesu! by that shuddering dread which fell on Thee; 
Jesu! by that cold dismay which sickened Thee; 
Jesu! by that pang of heart which thrilled in Thee; 
Jesu! by that mount of sins which crippled Thee; 
Jesu! by that sense of guilt which stifled Thee; 
Jesu! by that innocence which girdled Thee; 
Jesu! by that sanctity which reigned in Thee;
Jesu! by that Godhead which was one with Thee;
Jesu! spare these souls which are so dear to Thee;
Souls, who in prison, calm and patient, wait for Thee, 
Hasten, Lord, their hour, and bid them come to Thee,
To that glorious Home, where they shall ever gaze on Thee. 


I go before my Judge ... 

Voices on earth 

Be merciful, be gracious; spare him, Lord. Be merciful, be gracious; Lord, deliver him. 


... Praise to His Name!
O happy, suffering soul! for it is safe, 
Consumed, yet quickened, by the glance of God. 
Alleluia!! Praise to His Name. 


Take me away, and in the lowest deep
There let me be,
And there in hope the lone night-watches keep, 
Told out for me.
There, motionless, and happy in my pain, 
Lone, not forlorn –
There will I sing my sad perpetual strain,
Until the morn,
There will I sing, and soothe my stricken breast, 
Which ne’er can cease
To throb, and pine, and languish, till possest 
Of its Sole Peace.
There will I sing my absent Lord and Love: – 
Take me away,
That sooner I may rise, and go above,
And see Him in the truth of everlasting day. 

Souls in Purgatory 

Lord, Thou hast been our refuge: in every generation, 
Before the hills were born, and the world was,
from age to age Thou art God.
Bring us not Lord, very low; for Thou hast said, 
Come back again, ye sons of Adam.
Come back, O Lord! how long: and be entreated for 
Thy servants. 


Softly and gently, dearly ransomed soul,
In my most loving arms I now enfold thee,
And o’er the penal waters, as they roll,
I poise thee, and I lower thee, and hold thee. 
And carefully I dip thee in the lake,
And thou, without a sob or a resistance,
Dost through the flood thy rapid passage take, 
Sinking deep, deeper, into the dim distance. 
Angels, to whom the willing task is given,
Shall tend, and nurse, and lull thee, as thou liest; 
And Masses on the earth, and prayers in heaven, 
Shall aid thee at the Throne of the Most Highest. 
Farewell, but not for ever brother dear,
Be brave and patient on thy bed of sorrow; 
Swiftly shall pass thy night of trial here,
And I will come and wake thee on the morrow. 


Lord, Thou hast been our refuge, etc. Amen. 

Choir of Angelicals 

Praise to the Holiest, etc. Amen. 


Chester Bach Singers would be delighted to welcome you to our next concert ....

To book tickets for the Messiah fundraising concert, CLICK HERE.

The Dream of Gerontius: 2nd March 2024

Chester Bach Singers’ large-scale work this year is a joint enterprise with Chester Philharmonic Orchestra and Cantiones in a performance of Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius at Chester Cathedral.

We have also secured the services of three prestigious soloists – Kathryn Rudge, James Platt, and Joshua Ellicott – to help us put on this majestic piece of music.

The Dream of Gerontius is an oratorio that touches on the themes of life, death ... and what may come after. It is based on a poem by John Henry Newman and was set to music by Elgar in 1900. The story follows Gerontius, an ordinary man, as he confronts his own mortality, meets his guardian angel, and ultimately faces God before being sent to Purgatory with the promise of eternal glory.

The piece was commissioned for the Birmingham Triennial Music Festival – an event that was closely associated with Newman who had strong ties to the city and lived at the oratory for nearly 40 years. Elgar was approached to write the piece in 1898, after Antonín Dvořák had declined the invitation to compose for the 1887 Festival, despite being given a copy of Newman’s poem during a visit to Birmingham. Interestingly, Elgar received the poem as a wedding present in 1889, which sowed the seed of inspiration for the eventual composition.

Elgar treated the poem with reverence, only making necessary edits to suit the musical requirements. However, he was keen to not make the piece too sacred, explaining: 'I imagined Gerontius to be a man like us, not a Priest or a Saint, but a sinner... Therefore, I’ve not filled his part with Church tunes and rubbish but a good, healthy full-blooded romantic, remembered worldliness, so to speak.'

The performance is at 7:30pm on Saturday 2nd March 2024 at Chester Cathedral.

For tickets and more information CLICK HERE.

Poulenc's 'Gloria' Workshop: 27th January 2024

Every year CBS welcomes singers from across the North (they come from as far afield as Newcastle and Aberystwyth!) to work on a major choral piece for a day, followed by an informal performance.

This year we are greatly looking forward to diving into Poulenc’s Gloria on Saturday 27th January. Rhythmic, intensely melodic and full of quirky harmonies, this is a work that presents just the right level of challenge but also many rewards.

Our conductor, Martin Bussey, is looking forward to leading everyone through the challenges of this beautiful and uplifting work, accompanied at the keyboard by Catherine Barnett.

The workshop starts at 1.00 pm  and your ticket will include hire of the score, together with the legendary CBS tea and cake refreshments betwen workshop and concert. The Gloria  will be performed by workshop members at approximately 4.30 pm and audience tickets at £5 are available for the concert.

St Mary’s Creative Space,
St Mary’s Hill,
Chester CH1 2DW

For more information CLICK HERE

Open Rehearsal: 10th January 2024

We welcome all singers to our Open Rehearsal on 10th January, when we will be starting work on Elgar's 'Dream of Gerontius'.  Please arrive at 7.15 for a 7.30 start. 

If possible, please let us know in advance you'll be joining us by CLICKING HERE. You can also contact us by emailing: 

We will be using Novello's old edition of the work - so, if you have your own copy please bring it, but we will have copies to lend for the evening. 

Please be aware that the school is likely to be busy that evening, meaning that the car park will be under pressure, so if you are able to share transport that will help.  If you are not familiar with the school, please look for the building ahead and to your left after you have turned in from Wrexham Road - that is the Recital Hall, where we rehearse. You can download a copy of the school's site map by CLICKING HERE.

Interview with Cecilia McDowall

In 2022, Sonoro – one of the UK’s foremost vocal ensembles – commissioned six composers to each write a new work inspired by a ‘choral classic’ for the second of their Choral Inspirations series of workshops. One of these workshops was held in Chester in January 2023, in conjunction with CBS.

Cecilia McDowall’s Crucifixus Reimagined was one of the pieces we explored at the workshop, taking as its starting point the famous Crucifixus of the seventeenth-century composer Antonio Lotti.

Having decided to include Crucifixus Reimagined as part of our Autumn Inspirations concert in October, we were delighted when Cecilia was able to join us to share what she chose to do with Lotti’s Crucifixus as a starting point – and how it develops into a powerful statement of the Passiontide text.