Psalm 124 is sung here to two chants, one in D minor by Ivor Atkins, and another based on it but in D major, written by Ralph Allwood. The chants beautifully partner the words, in the first part expressing the drama in which the children of Israel imagine being swallowed up by the deep waters of the Red Sea. Because the Lord was on their side they avoided the cataclysm.
From verse five we move into the major key for Ralph Allwood’s exuberant variation on the chant, with “But praised by the Lord…”, in which section the Israelites give thanks for their deliverance.
Contrasting chants illustrating the changing mood of the underlying words
Many of the psalms have such contrasting moods, in which bad things are feared or pondered over in the first section, but nevertheless the Lord comes good in the end and the psalmist ultimately gives thanks for deliverance or protection. Contrasting chants, sometimes in minor and then major keys, are a very good way of illustrating the changing mood of the underlying words.
Ralph Allwood rehearses Psalm 124 with the choir, helping them to bring out the meaning of the words, and to place emphasis in the best place. He discusses issues of organ registration with Mark Shepherd in this video, and Mark demonstrates the use of dramatic variations in registration that greatly enhance the performance of the psalm. They conclude with a full performance.
1 If the Lord himself had not been on our side, now may Israel say : if the Lord himself had not been on our side, when men rose up against us;
2 They had swallowed us up quick : when they were so wrathfully displeased at us.
3 Yea, the waters had drowned us : and the stream had gone over our soul.
4 The deep waters of the proud : had gone even over our soul.
5 But praised be the Lord : who hath not given us over for a prey unto their teeth.
6 Our soul is escaped even as a bird out of the snare of the fowler : the snare is broken, and we are delivered.
7 Our help standeth in the Name of the Lord : who hath made heaven and earth.
I’m a retired academic, with a background in music and audio engineering. I’m currently a consultant for Viscount & Regent Classic Organs, as well as being a freelance organist, including a role as organist/choirmaster at St Mary’s, Witney. I sing bass with Oxford Pro Musica Singers and the Cathedral Singers of Christ Church, Oxford.