Both these composers, one Catholic, the other Jewish – and both
far less well known than they ought to be – have written works
following the Ordinary of the Catholic Mass. They are conceived
for orchestral forces, not vocal ones, and explore powerful, lyrical
and impressive turns of phrase. I have to say at the outset that
I was greatly taken by both and have returned to them several
Flagello died in 1994. His Missa
Sinfonica has real hymnal beauty. It kowtows to no formula
or prescribed aesthetic other than that of genuine musical truthfulness
to its subject material. There are neo-romantic moments throughout,
ones that perhaps align with Creston, though in its more surging
and colouristic moments Khachaturian can come to mind as can
– very different but exhibiting the same concern for lyricism
and religious intensity – George Lloyd. The festive Gloria is
a treat – did it lack sufficient earnestness for its auditors?
More fool they. The frank string pliancy has a fulminous beauty
no question, unselfconscious, warm, and some passages that sound
like veiled Bernstein with hints of Cuban dance rhythms. The
warm central panel of this movement is an unceasing delight.
The plainchant vein that runs through the Credo maybe also hint
at Vaughan Williams; there’s a noble grandeur in the peroration.
The assertive and celebrity Sanctus and Benedictus have a “stomp
without words” feel and prepare one for the solemn tread of
the Agnus Dei; Walton and Barber have their place here amid
the powerful climax of this invigorating, splendid work.
Those words apply also to Rosner’s
Symphony No.5 Missa sine Cantoribus super Salve Regina, which was written in 1973. This
is a “neo-modal” work strongly redolent of VW. Rosner’s use
of strings and harp in the Kyrie – and throughout - summons
up the English composer but there are also brassy climaxes that
maybe invite thoughts of Honegger. The Gloria is as light as
a Renaissance dance with a fugal section like a brass canone
and sporting incremental filmic force. The brass, strings and
winds are saturated in Renaissance music in the Sanctus and
Rosner hardly stints the climax of this movement – a seismic,
MGM piledriver that affirms life in all its richness and strength.
Surging power immediately surfaces for the Agnus Dei – as well
as torrents of ardent lyricism winnowing to a quiet affirmatory
Neither of these works trades
in any bogus -isms other than pure lyricism. They are strong,
communicative, tender, agile and exciting. And they’re played
here with roistering power and drama. Rather than duplicate
yet another disc in your collection expand your horizons with
these two vibrant American statements.
see also Review
by Rob Barnett