The Elora Singers may not be well known, if at all
in Britain but they are a top choir in Canada where they are the lynch-pin
of the Elora Festival, a month long celebration of choral music held
each summer in the village of Elora. They were formed in 1980 and have
made other recordings for Naxos. It is typical of Naxos to discover
these lesser-known top quality performers and to get the best out of
Programming is important and this one is well thought
out and ideal for the voices. It’s interesting also to discover that
VW has at last got across the Atlantic into the repertoire of choirs
Now if you already have a recording of the Vaughan
Williams Mass then hang onto it. As good and moving, as this performance
is it does not supplant most others. What might attract you to this
recording, apart from the price, might be the accompanying items which
are interesting and not normally found in the context of the Mass. Take
for example ‘O vos Omnes’ written, like the Mass for Richard Terry at
Westminster Cathedral. Both date from 1922. It is a rather searching
and mysterious setting for Holy Week of a passage in the Lamentations
of Jeremiah set famously by Tallis and Gesualdo. Here it is set for
sopranos and altos, in writing not a million miles away from the Agnus
dei of the Mass, until the climax "Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum"
when to rich chords the lower voices enter.
I can also admit that whilst I knew that VW had set
John Skelton (1464-1529) in the ‘Five Tudor Portraits’ I didn’t realise
that he had set Skelton in the very moving homophonic setting ‘Prayer
to the Father of Heaven’, which begins ‘O radiant luminary of light
interminable’ set to ethereally moving harmonies. I was distinctly reminded
in the handling of the root position chords of VW’s setting of ‘Silence
and Music’, written four years later as his contribution to ‘Garland
for the Queen’ at the time of the Coronation.
I feel mostly very positive about the performance of
the ‘Mass’. There are however a few reservations.
I can’t be sure if it is the recording or the acoustic
or the singers but there are a number of occasions when VW asks for
ff and it never really happens. This is particularly important
in the Gloria which has an unusual amount of slow reflective music but
which culminates in the double choir A-men in 8 parts. The effect
here is too smooth and lacking in strength. Indeed Noel Edison seems
to think of VW as a composer without well… guts. The quiet reflective
singing is wonderful; the louder passages needing fire do not come off.
The opening of the Credo is marked Allegro con moto and f but
the singers struggle to make an acceptable Allegro and are certainly
not forte. A passage at letter D and for a further 13 bars beginning
‘Gentium non factum' is marked ff. and again this does not happen.
In the ‘Qui propter’ that follows, the drama is lost. Marked poco tranquillo
there seems little contrast of tempo and even less than there should
be in dynamics. To hear how this should be done the reader should listen
to the Hyperion recording by the Corydon singers under Matthew Best
(CDA 66242 - not at present available)
The last items are well known anthems and culminate
in the composer’s most beautiful hymn, ‘Come down O Love divine’. They
are sung with great affection and beauty. ‘O taste and See’ was written
as part of the Coronation Service. ‘O Clap you hands’, written in 1920,
is justly popular, although here it lacks bite and real excitement,
and much the same can be said of ‘O how amiable are thy dwellings’,
from 1934 written for the dedication of a church.
I do feel that the singers missed a trick by not recording
at least one of VW’s moving plainsong hymn harmonizations as they are
mentioned in Keith Anderson’s booklet notes (along with a useful overview
of the composer’s church music career). As the CD is just less than
an hour in duration a couple of them might have given us an even better
and more rounded view of this great choral composer.