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Trinity Sunday at Westminster Abbey: Matins
The bells of Westminster Abbey [1’17"]
Thomas TOMKINS (1572-1656) The Preces [1’19"]
Sir George ELVEY (1816-1893) Psalm 115 [3’57"]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976) Te Deum in C [8’21"]
Sir William WALTON (1902-1983) Jubilate [3’51"]
Thomas TOMKINS and John FARMER (fl.1591-1601) The Responses [5’25"]
Eucharist

Francis GRIER (b. 1955) Missa Trinitatis Sanctae [15’05"]
Evensong

Sir Edward BAIRSTOW (1874-1946) Psalm 107 [9’48"]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983) Magnificat [5’22"} and Nunc Dimittis [3’02"] ‘Westminster Service’
Sir John STAINER (1840-1901) I saw the Lord [7’15"]
Sir Charles STANFORD (1852-1924) Fantasia and Toccata in D minor, Op. 57 [12’40]
The Choir of Westminster Abbey/James O’Donnell
Robert Quinney (organ)
rec. Westminster Abbey, 15-16, 21-22 June 2005. DDD
HYPERION CDA 67557 [78’02"]

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 sung too.

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 be complaining.

This is a splendid and stimulating disc, which I’ve enjoyed very much. More please!

John Quinn

 

 



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