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Colin MAWBY (b.1936)
Ave verum corpus [3:21]
William MATHIAS  (1934-1992)
The Doctrine of Wisdom (1990) [5:13]
John TAVENER (b. 1944)
Funeral Ikos (1981)  [9:09]
Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986)
Missa in honorem Sancti Dominici (1948) [17:06]
Arvo PÄRT  (b. 1935)
The Beatitudes (1990/91)  [8:51]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
Salve regina (1915) [4:56]
Westminster Cathedral Choir
The City of London Sinfonia/James O’Donnell
Andrew Reid, organ
Recording dates and locations are not given.
WARNER APEX 2564 60447 2 [48:41]

The Westminster Cathedral Choir have assembled a collection of relatively modern yet traditional-sounding music for this rather skimpy and not particularly well-performed program.

Colin Mawby’s rich Ave verum corpus opens the disc. Although this is a rather attractive work, the choir spoils its grandeur when the men insist on shouting instead of singing. The tone is so raucous and harsh that it ruins any attempt by the listener to meditate on the body of Christ. At the climax the tenor section that hammers in like a jet engine obliterates any sense of an upward sweep of emotion or an opulent wash of sound, most egregiously.

William Mathias’s Doctrine of Wisdom is sung better from a purely vocal stance, but as this disc wore on I found that the Westminsterites have two basic forms of expression: loud and soft. There is no subtlety in the dynamic or color shadings, and only one timbre that becomes dull in minutes.

Two works from the mystical one-trick pony team of Tavener and Pärt are well enough performed, but the music itself is a crashing bore, repetitive to a fault and so static in harmonic language and lacking in rhythmic drive that any sublimity one might feel in the opening bars quickly gives way to numbing sleep induction.

By far and away, the best two works on the disc are Rubbra’s Dominican Mass and the lovely Salve Regina by Herbert Howells, who occasionally put aside his Anglicanism to write in Latin for the Romans. The Mass is actually quite well sung and is remarkable for the clarity of its text settings and its delicious harmonies. The Howells suffers from less that clear enunciation and the overbearing singing of the adult men.

Hit and miss music with a more miss than hit performance. The total timing is also woefully short. One would think that this choir would have an extra piece or two in its repertoire to fill out the disc. The Rubbra is excellent, but hardly enough to recommend the entire recording.

Kevin Sutton


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