Christ Rising. Music for Holy Week and Easter.
Thomas Tallis: Verily, verily I say
Francis Poulenc: Tristis est anima
J. S. Bach: Christe, du Lamm Gottes
Poulenc: Vinea mea electa*
Kenneth Leighton: What love is this
Bach: Hilf, Gott, dass mir's gelinge
Benjamin Britten: Yif ic of luve
can; Ye that passen by
(From Scared and Profane.
Bach: Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund
Orlando de Lassus: Tenebrae factae
Tomas Luis de Victoria: Vere languores
William Walton: A Litany*
Orlande de Lassus: Sepulto Domino
Thomas Morley: Eheu sustulerunt
Bach: Christ lag in Todesbanden
William Byrd: From Mass Propers
for Easter Day from Gradualia (1607):
Victoria: Surrexit pastor bonus
Byrd: Christ rising***
Choir of The Queen's
College, Oxford conducted by Owen Rees and *Edward Whiting
**Edward Whiting and ***George Parsons (organ)
GUILD GMCD 7222 [61.37]
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This intelligently planned CD offers a sequence of music for the period known in the Roman Catholic Church as the Triduum, that is to say Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The sequence is rightly completed by music suitable for Easter day itself. At appropriate points along the way we encounter apposite chorale preludes from Bach's Orgelbuchlein.
In fact, the programme goes further by illustrating some of the main events in the Passion of Christ. So the two Maundy Thursday pieces illustrate respectively the Last Supper (Tallis) and the arrest of Christ (Poulenc). Similarly the Good Friday section is divided into three parts: Jesus condemned; The Crucifixion; and the Death of Jesus. The programme as a whole provides a deeply satisfying and well-chosen meditation on the central events of the Christian year.
In common with the majority of Oxbridge colleges chapel choirs today the choir of Queens College includes both male and female voices, including a mixed alto line which I often find produces a "best of both worlds" blend, as is here the case. There are 25 singers and they produce a beautifully blended sound throughout the programme, whether in the aching, bitter-sweet harmonies of Poulenc's Vinea mea electa or in the magnificent, joyful verse anthem by Byrd with which they conclude (the only accompanied piece on the disc).
There are several twentieth century English pieces, including, appropriately, one by Kenneth Leighton, who was a student at the college between 1947 and 1951. His anthem receives an assured and understanding performance, directed by Edward Whiting, who is in charge of the other modern choral pieces. All of these are similarly well performed. The remaining choral offerings come are by English or Iberian composers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the particular speciality of Owen Rees, the College organist. It is quite evident that he has successfully conveyed to the choir his love and enthusiasm for this style of music.
Besides the general excellence of the performances one other point is noteworthy, I think. In most recitals of this nature it is usually the Director of Music who is to the fore, directing the choir while the Organ Scholar appears very much as the junior partner, contributing accompaniments and the occasional voluntary. Not in this case. This is very much a collaborative venture even including the (excellent) notes, which are jointly credited to Owen Rees and his Organ Scholar, Edward Whiting. They share the conducting of the choir and theirs is evidently a most successful partnership. Whiting is the thoughtful and musical performer who plays the four Bach chorales on the college organ, a two-manual, Danish instrument built in 1965 which suits these lovely little meditations to perfection.
The recording was made in the college chapel just a few days after Easter Sunday when presumably much if not all of the music was fresh in the minds of the performers after the Holy Week services. The sound is excellent: well balanced with just the right amount of space and ambience around the voices.
If this repertoire is to your taste, as it is to mine, you will find this recital a very satisfying experience. Warmly recommended.