History of the Choir

The following brief history of the choir has been written by Don Jessett, who recently retired from the position of Deputy Chairman

In his congratulatory message to the Society on the occasion of its 75th Anniversary in 2013, Keith Griffin OBE, formerly Director of Ty Cerdd wrote, “As one of the oldest of our Welsh choral societies with a continual existence, it maintains its tradition of a varied repertoire, balancing major choral classics with less well-known, but always interesting works.” Dr. Lyn Davies, Chair of Ty Cerdd, writing on the same occasion, remarked that under its musical directors the Society had developed into a choral force t be reckoned with. “It performed a huge range of judiciously chosen repertoire from Bach to the African Sanctus of David Fanshawe, as well as a number of significant premieres by the leading Welsh composers of the day – vitally important when Cardiff did not boast a concert hall of international standing. Llandaff Cathedral Choral Society continues to play an important role in Welsh music and long may it continue to do so.”

In 1938 a ‘Special Choir’ had been founded in order to support the Cathedral Choir in the performance of larger works. Following the hiatus caused by the Second World War, in 1960 the Special Choir was renamed the Llandaff Cathedral Choral Society – to emphasize its strong links with the Cathedral.The conductor was Robert Joyce who had been appointed Cathedral Organist and Master of the Choristers in 1958. He established the Society as one of the most significant large mixed choirs in Wales. This has continued to be true under his successors, Dr.Michael Smith, Avril Harding and  Dominic Neville.The tradition of the Cathedral Organist and Master of the Choristers  being also Conductor of the Society was broken in 1990 when Dr. Smith retired from latter post. The appointments of  Avril Harding and Dominic Neville were both approved by the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral.

From 1960 the Society always featured in the Llandaff Festival and following a performance of Bach’s B minor Mass in 1967, Kenneth Loveland, the doyen of music critics, wrote in Music and Musicians “An admirably balanced B minor Mass by the Llandaff Cathedral Choral Society conducted by Robert Joyce ended the Festival. This choir’s ….emergence as a really lively, sensitive body delighted all those who have stood loyally by the decision to include it in the Festival each year. On this form…it will be a welcome inclusion on every occasion.”

Of a performance of the Verdi Requiem in 1981, he wrote “From the point of view of the choir this was the finest contribution I can recall them making in many years of the Festival. The singing was admirably disciplined and Verdi’s canvas was totally balanced and rich in tone. The conductor was Michael Smith.

The Society performed annually in the Llandaff Festival until the Festival ceased in 1986. The opening of St. David’s Hall made it the obvious venue for musicians with an international reputation. The Society has performed in St. David’s Hall in combination with other choirs. One such occasion was the Jubilee Season of the Society in1988 when Berlioz’s Grande Messe de Morts was performed with Sir Charles Groves as the Conductor and Robert Tear as the tenor soloist. It won high praise from A.J.Sicluna. writing in the South Wales Echo, “Llandaff Cathedral Choral Society promised something special…. to celebrate their Golden Jubilee – and they were right. For choral and orchestral forces of nearly 500 raised the roof with a vital pulsating performance of the Grande Messe des Morts of Berlioz. This rarely heard work exploded with power and excitement as one huge crescendo after another created a massive impact.”

The Society has performed in all of the Llandaff Festivals organised in recent years  by Canon Graham Holcombe. This has helped in fund-raising for the completion of the Cathedral’s new organ.

Despite the lack of informed critical scrutiny in the local press since the advent of St. David’s Hall, LCCS has continued to perform three concerts each year of programmes selected from the great choral works of Bach, Brahms, Beethoven Handel, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Monteverdi, Mozart, Purcell, Tallis, Vivaldi etc. – the standard choral repertoire. But it has not neglected  other composers, including Britten, Bernstein, Elgar, Fauré, Duruflé, Jongen, Janacek, Karl Jenkins, and John Rutter. In 2012 the Society was chosen by Making Music to work with the composer Duncan Macleod to develop and perform a new piece, Best of  Morning Dawns: this was broadcast on Radio 3.