> Seeing Salvation 1000 yaesr of sacred music [DW]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb-International

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1000 years of sacred music

Various Choirs
Rec 1990s (DDD)
METRONOME CD MET 1042 [74.40]


Experience Classicsonline

An interesting disc of a collection of music specially compiled to complement the millennial exhibition Seeing Salvation: The Image of Christ at the National Gallery early in 2000. It begins with a male unison item, a Kyrie by St Dunstan of the tenth century sung by the lay clerks of Canterbury Cathedral..

This is followed by four items from the Orlando Consort beginning with Viderunt Omnes by Perotin, a sound and style which I find unpleasant - like high pitched traffic horns with a nasal close harmony that I find oppressive. This coupled with the jerky dotted rhythms is irritating. When one considers the times and the sense of reverence in church music this piece sounds banal, irreverent and zoological rather than religious. It is also note spinning for over ten minutes where there is no logical development of the material. It is just like a cold stone slab in a monastery. I do not wish to offend anyone but this music is awful! I am sure that , in its own way, it has merit but ...

Then follows a piece by Dunstaple. Don’t they mean Dunstable who died in London in 1453? The piece is called O crux gloriosa and the quality of the music is vastly better that what has preceded it.

This selection continues with beautiful performances of Dufay’s Victimae Paschali, Compere’s Asperges Me and Obrecht’s Salve Crux - all very atmospheric if slow moving and uneventful. The Obrecht has some good contrasts though, largely due to the harmonies being wider spread ... always helps. And its performance is very effective. I loved it. It was a little too long to maintain the material.

The choir of Christ Church Oxford perform Thomas Ashwell’s Gloria, Missa Jesu Christe beginning with a long unison passage for the Kyrie and then there are some super harmonies and a very lovely sound. Some moments are choice and, at times, I could feel a sense of worship and wonder. It was not the style at the time but some of the passages in the Gloria call for more robust music. But this mass has a fluency and some of the high melismatas are very moving. The performance is truly admirable.

Salisbury Cathedral Choir give us one of the first all-time greats of sacred music, Monteverdi’s Beatus Vir but, sadly, it does not work so well with children's voices as it does with an adult choir. The sound is sometimes thin and the performance is a cautious one and that I can understand.

I Fagiolini sing Bach’s florid Singet dem Herm with great character, if not always perfect intonation, and then we come to Haydn. His masses are still undervalued and, in my view, they have a tremendous spiritual depth. The Sanctus from the Nelson Mass is performed here by the Fiori Musical Choir and Orchestra. I am sure that Gounod had this very item in mind when he wrote his Sanctus in his Misse a Ste Cecile in 1882, eighty-four years later. The similarities are too close to be coincidental.

The Ave Verum Corpus of Mozart is a gem and given a good performance by the Salisbury Choir who follow it with Stanford’s Beati Quorum Via. Items by this fine composer are always welcome. He had the ability to write sacred music that was effective but not trammelled by influence or fashion. He hated pomposity in music particularly religious music and it reminds me of that wonderful story when he and Sir Hubert Party had been to a performance of The Dream of Gerontius. Afterwards, one said that the piece stunk of incense whereas the other replied, 'Oh no, it doesn’t. It just stinks.’ While there are extremes in religious and Christian music today it is reasonable to expect sacred music to communicate effectively and achieve the right balance between reverence and dignity on the one hand and a way to allow listeners and worshippers to enjoy sacred music.

The disc ends with The Same Yesterday and Forever by the contemporary composer John Tavener, a composer hard to fathom. But this piece is slight and presents no problems.

David Wright


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