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Seen & Heard
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Joseph Jongen (1873-1953)
Messe en l’honneur du Saint-Sacrement Op.130 (1945-1948)
Deus Abraham Motet pour une messe de marriage W150
Pie Jesu No.1 of Deux Motets W71 (1895)
Quid sum miser? No.1 of Trois Motets W99
Flor Peeters (1903-1986)
Missa Festiva Op.62 for choir and organ (1947) [27:31]
(violin); Paul Provost (organ)
London City Brass
The Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge/David Hill
rec. St John’s College Chapel, Cambridge, 10-12 July 2006.
Latin texts and English translations
I guess that for many music-lovers, Belgian
music begins and ends with César Franck. However, his compatriots,
Joseph Jongen and Flor Peeters, though not so celebrated,
were far from insubstantial figures.
Franck, Jongen was born in Liège, where he studied at the
Conservatoire. He pursued a teaching career for much of his
life and was on the staff at the Brussels Conservatoire for
many years, retiring as its Director in 1939. Peeters was
also an academic, teaching first in Malines and later, from
1952, serving as Director of the Antwerp Conservatoire. Unlike
Jongen he was also a cathedral organist, in Malines. Perhaps
that distinction between the two goes some way towards explaining
why Jongen’s Messe en l’honneur du Saint-Sacrement is
more of a concert work than is Peeters’ Missa Festiva.
Jongen setting was composed to celebrate the seven-hundredth
anniversary of the institution of the Corpus Christi festival
at St-Martin, Liège. It was first performed in that city’s
cathedral in 1946, although the Credo was only added to the
setting two years later. I’d not heard the piece before but
it impressed me. The involvement of a brass group adds colour
and touches of splendour to the accompaniment. However, although
the use of the brass at climaxes lends an extra majesty I
found that Jongen uses them even more imaginatively in quieter
passages. This is true, for example, in the Kyrie, which
is a dignified movement in a restrained style.
the Gloria the brass contribute some exciting sonorities
in the louder passages. The writing for choir is both assured
and interesting and the organ, splendidly played by Paul
Provost, is certainly not overshadowed by the presence of
the brass group. The Credo is another fine movement. I was
impressed by the note of quiet awe at ‘Et incarnatus est’ after
which the ‘Crucifixus’ is powerful and the ‘Et Resurrexit’ surges
forward with great vitality.
Scott Whiteley opines in his excellent notes that the scale
of the Sanctus and Benedictus movements make it clear that
this is a Mass setting intended, primarily, for concert use.
I liked the florid choral passages and brass fanfares at
the start of what is often an exuberant setting of the Sanctus.
The Benedictus, which is quiet and gently flowing, uses a
solo quartet as well as the choir. The quartet reappears
briefly in the Agnus Dei, a mainly pacific setting which
includes reminiscences of music from previous movements.
John Scott Whiteley comments that this movement exhibits “a
fastidious lyricism and a restrained intensity”. I agree
and, indeed, that’s a description that could apply to much
of the music in this Mass.
Peeters setting, one of nine Masses that he composed, is
very clearly a liturgical work. In fact one thing that struck
me was that in general the accompaniment – for organ only – is
less prominent, playing a more simply supportive role than
in the Jongen. For Peeters it’s the voices that carry the
main burden of the argument. The Kyrie is impassioned and
intense, though it ends quietly. The setting of the Gloria
is more compact than in Jongen’s Mass.
was the case with the Jongen, I was particularly impressed,
in the Credo, with the section beginning at ‘Et incarnatus
est’. That passage is set for unaccompanied voices. The ‘Crucifixus’ is
tense and powerful and then ‘Et Resurrexit’ is marvellously
triumphant. The section that follows sounds like a real profession
of faith and the movement ends with a soaring and affirmative
Amen. This is fine stuff.
compact Sanctus is a luminous setting, with lovely ‘Hosannas.’ The
gentle Benedictus ends with a brief, joyful Hosanna. The
Agnus Dei reprises some material from the Kyrie. The second ‘Agnus’ is
urgent and taut and the movement ends with a serenely beautiful ‘Dona
when a disc includes a couple of shorter pieces beside one
or more larger works I’m wary of giving the impression that
the shorter pieces are mere ‘fillers’. However, I’m afraid
that on this occasion that’s precisely the case. The three
small pieces by Jongen are, frankly, of only minor interest.
The setting of Deus Abraham was written for and performed
at Jongen’s own wedding. It’s pleasant enough but slight
and the violin part, though well played here, lends a rather
cloying sweetness to the proceedings. That’s even more the
case in Quid sum miser? where the combination of bass
solo, violin and organ is most odd. I don’t feel that it
really works all that well and, in any case, the music itself
is somewhat undistinguished. The remaining offering is a
setting for treble solo and organ of Pie Jesu. This
little piece sounds rather insipid when one calls to mind
the settings by Fauré and Duruflé.
performances on this disc are, without exception, first rate.
The St. John’s choir produces a bright, forward sound and
although this music cannot have been exactly core repertoire
for them they sing it confidently. I’ve already mentioned
the fine contribution of Paul Provost. London Brass also
play a distinguished part in the proceedings. David Hill
has clearly trained the choir very well indeed – as one would
expect – and his spirited and sympathetic direction of the
choir makes one regret that his tenure at St John’s has been
doubt that either of these Mass settings will ever establish
themselves as core repertoire pieces but I’m very glad to
have had the opportunity to get to know them, and in such
fine performances, through this typically enterprising Hyperion
see also review by John France
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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