This is a most imaginatively
planned CD, which assembles all the
main items of music that might be heard
during the three major Anglican services
on Trinity Sunday. As will be seen from
the track-listing, we get a set of Preces
and Responses for Matins. However, the
programme doesn’t pretend to be a complete
reconstruction of the services so, for
reasons of space, I imagine, there is
no comparable set of Preces and Responses
when Evensong is reached. That, I think,
is a perfectly sensible editorial decision.
The Matins Psalm is
well sung, as is its Evensong counterpart.
The choices of Britten’s C major Te
Deum and Walton’s Jubilate
are appropriately festal and there’s
a celebratory air about the way they’re
Francis Grier’s a
capella setting of the Mass, which
dates from 1991, was completely new
to me. I enjoyed it very much and I
thought the performance splendid. Its
inclusion here is most apposite since
it was commissioned by the Dean and
Chapter of Westminster Abbey and was
specifically intended for Trinity Sunday.
I was particularly struck by the helter-skelter
dancing music at the outer edges of
the Gloria and by the gentle, devoted
Sanctus. I believe that Francis Grier’s
works have often been influenced by
Eastern music and that’s evident at
several points during this Mass setting.
It sounds far from easy to sing but
the choir does it splendidly. I thought
it a most effective piece.
I was delighted to
see the name of Herbert Howells on the
music roster for Evensong. And how good
that James O’Donnell resisted the temptation
to include one of Howells’s well known
sets of canticles. As its title makes
clear, this particular set was written
for the Abbey and it dates from 1957.
James O’Donnell observes justly in his
notes that this is "among Howells’s
most impressionistic and elusive settings".
As such, it doesn’t perhaps make the
same immediate impact as the Gloucester
Service or the Collegium Regale
setting. Nonetheless, these canticles
contain some splendid music and melodic
invention as well as harmonic tension
and richness are much in evidence. Both
canticles share the same ‘Glory Be’.
Howells wrote some magnificent doxology
music and this is an absolutely prime
example. The music is resplendently
majestic and makes as strong an impression
as does the corresponding passage in,
say, the St. Paul’s Service.
I could have thought
of a few more interesting anthems than
Stainer’s I saw the Lord but,
of course, it is highly appropriate
to the day and its reassuring four-square
solidity and self-confidence impresses.
It’s also a piece full of dramatic contrast,
which is here exploited to the full.
Like everything else on the disc it
receives a very fine performance.
Robert Quinney contributes
some fine accompaniments but he gets
his place in the limelight at the end
with a magisterial account of Stanford’s
Fantasia and Toccata in D
minor. This is big stuff, showing
Stanford’s debt to Brahms, Mendelssohn
and, of course, to Bach. It makes a
splendidly imposing conclusion to the
proceedings and if the service were
"for real" I would be staying
firmly in my pew until the very end
of such a fine and finely played voluntary.
The recorded sound
is excellent on this disc. There’s just
the right amount of distancing on the
choral sound while the organ is well
balanced against and with them. The
organ, however, more than comes into
its own in the Stanford solo. Documentation
is of the usual Hyperion standard: need
one say more?
I believe this is one
of the first recordings that James O’Donnell
has made since taking charge of the
music at Westminster Abbey. In his previous
appointment as Master of the Music at
the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Westminster
he made a lengthy and distinguished
series of recordings for Hyperion. Now
that he has moved down the road, as
it were, I hope he’ll continue to record
for them with his new choir. In this
connection I see that this CD and the
concurrent release of a very fine disc
of Byrd’s Great Service (CDA67533) are
badged by Hyperion as "The Westminster
Abbey Collection" so hopes must
be high that more recordings will appear
from this source. If they are as artistically
distinguished and musically interesting
as this present release then I won’t
This is a splendid
and stimulating disc, which I’ve enjoyed
very much. More please!