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 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.