It is a powerful claim: A Hymn for the World. Those in the Western World would consider it justified by the extracts of the works of the European composers selected here. I pause to wonder whether the peoples of the Eastern world would accept this wide claim; but instead of digressing into questions of comparative religions and music I will move on to the disc itself.
This disc is founded in religion. All the tracks are "sacred works". Further the CD is dedicated to Pope John Paul II "for his service to mankind" and to the composers who, by their music, have made the world "a more beautiful and harmonious place"
While there are many works which could be chosen for the first track no-one would quarrel with the selection of Vivaldi's Gloria in excelsis Deo; nor the progression to his Domine Deus, Rex caelestis.
Myung-Whun Chung sets off at a cracking pace demonstrating the strength of the musical character of the composer and whilst occasionally the composer's choral phrasing might be thought less then perfect the conductor overcomes any such doubts with an equal show of discipline at his chosen tempo. In the second track we are also treated to the ringing bell clarity of the voice of Cecilia Bartoli at a more measured tempo. Not only this but also there is the superbly paced and varied tone of the oboe of Augusto Loppi.
On to J.S.Bach and what else but Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. The orchestra is reined in to a canter but the cracking pace is restored for Handel's "Hallelujah" Chorus. I think this does a slight disservice making it almost impossible for the chorus to enunciate clearly the words in the early part - the problem being that with a work so well known we do expect to hear them.
We leave behind the composer contemporaries and move on to Mozart starting with the funeral motet or litany Ave verum corpus. Now the orchestra and chorus are brought to the gentle sedate and almost discreet pace required, performing with deep control and intense feeling this exquisite piece of music. This track shows choral music at its very best.
Cecilia Bartoli returns for the second work by Mozart and it is no surprise that his Alleluia is chosen. Again with ringing clarity she demonstrates almost to perfection her supreme artistry - her runs would be impossible to better. What a pity that just occasionally the recording engineers have not managed to "take out" her intakes of breath - intrusive, occasionally, yes - but not a reason for not listening spellbound.
On to Liszt and his Ave verum corpus with the chorus in total control of tone, phrasing and emphasis, evoking haunting uncertainties of death. Qui seminant in lacrimis follows in similar consummate style with quite superb organ playing by Daniele Rossi.
It was Hans von Bülow who described Verdi's requiem as an "Oper in Kirchengewande" (opera in ecclesiastical dress). This recording of his Sanctus demonstrates the accuracy of that reference and it could be applied equally to Rossini's Amen from Stabat Mater, which follows.
Gounod's Marche Pontificale would not be my first choice of his work. Something from his 21 masses would have commanded more sympathy from the orchestra, which here for the first and last time seems to struggle to find the phrasing and touch evident elsewhere.
However they return to top form with a beautifully played Agnus Dei of Bizet (arr. Ernest Guiraud). They are sharp and full of tonal variations. Andrea Bocelli is an inspired choice for this track with his clarity of voice and distinctive tone. Throw away the provided libretto. Do not throw out also the notes by Harvey Sachs, which inform and interest on each and every track with perceptive musical comments.
The only point about which I feel uncomfortable is, curiously, the front of the disc as shown above with the photographs and names of Bartoli and Bocelli in equal prominence with Chung. Bocelli sings on only one track and that for less than two and a half minutes. Bartoli sings on three tracks. Yes, the reverse of the disc makes the performance numbers quite clear but the name size with the photograph seems to me could mislead the impulse purchaser.
The wonderful clear vibrant tone with dramatic variation of the voice of Cecilia Bartoli returns for Franck's Panis angelicus. The penultimate musical track is Fauré's In Paradisum. This recording is particularly interesting because the voices are not the sharpest (compare the John Eliot Gardiner recording of the Requiem for Philips 438 149-2) but to me this slight blurring of the vocal edges conveys the ethereal quality in the work by this master of the French song. This is an atmospheric track. To match that we have Olivier Messiaen's O sacrum convivium played to show the haunting mystery with soft colours merging with others and then separating and reforming to encourage reflection and contemplation.
The CD concludes with an earlier recording of the Rite of Peace by Pope John Paul II by which we cannot fail to be moved whatever we believe and wherever we live.
This is a CD of sacred works and can be heard as such and no
more. It could also be an introduction to sacred music for which it
would be almost perfect. Whatever the reason for purchase (and the joy
of giving comes strongly to mind) this is a disc to be enjoyed and celebrated.