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The Feast of St Michael and All Angels Matins:
Richard DERING (c.1580-1630)
Factum est silentium [3.11]

Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988)
The Preces [1.17]

Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Psalm 148 [3.14]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Te Deum [7.05]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Jubilate [2.32]

The Responses [6.33]
Jean LANGLAIS (1907-1991)
Messe solennelle [19.20] (Kyrie [4.26]; Gloria [4.54]; Sanctus [1.42]; Benedictus [2.56]; Agnus Dei [5.20])

Sir Michael TIPPETT (1905-1998)
Plebs angelica [3.42]

Sir Walter Galpin ALCOCK (1861-1947)
Psalm 91 [4.21]
Sir Michael TIPPETT
Collegium Sancti Johannis Cantabrigiense [7.19]; Magnificat [4.10]; Nunc Dimitis [3.08]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
A Sequence for St Michael [10.23]
Jonathan HARVEY (b.1939)
Laus Deo [4.05]

The Choir of Westminster Abbey/James O'Donnell
Robert Quinney (organ)
rec. Westminster Abbey on 29 January, 1, 5, 6 February 2007. DDD
HYPERION CDA67643 [73.11] 


Experience Classicsonline

This disc demonstrates the music that one might hear on Michelmas - The Feast of St Michael and All Angels (29 September) at Westminster Abbey. The book of Revelations depicts the battle that raged in heaven between St Michael, with all his angels, and the Dragon (Satan) and his evil angels. Michael defeated the forces of evil, sending them plummeting down to earth. Michael is also known as the Archangel, a recurrent feature in any service of The Feast of St Michael and All Angels.

The disc is divided into the three major choral services of a Feast Day – Matins, Eucharist and Evensong. It opens with Factum est Silentium, from Richard Dering’s collection of Cantica Sacra of 1618, and describes the silence in heaven as Michael fought the dragon. The ensuing Preces, and later Responses are by Kenneth Leighton, and introduce a more astringent and modern sound. Psalm 148 follows, in a surprisingly unexciting setting by Stanford. The ensuing Vaughan Williams – Te Deum in G, a strong, fine work – has more interest, as does Britten’s joyful and characterful Jubilate in C. The Eucharist is here represented by the Messe Solennelle of 1951 by the blind French composer and organist Jean Langlais - regarded by many as his greatest sacred work – and by Tippett’s Plebs Angelica. This, along with two works later on the disc, comprise the bulk of the little liturgical music that Tippett composed. In Evensong, after the lovely, wonderfully gentle and tonal Psalm 91 by Sir Walter Galpin Alcock (an organist of Salisbury Cathedral), comes Tippett’s Collegium Sancti Johannis Cantabrigiense, the Magnificat, with its manic organ part, and the more serene Nunc Dimittis for a smaller chorus - here a quartet of voices. Herbert Howells’ A Sequence for St Michael sets words by Alcuin, in Helen Waddell’s translation, from Mediaeval Latin Lyrics. It is a prayer to St Michael, in which his great deed of war is recalled. It is profound, deeply felt music – its intensity probably testament to the agonized grief that Howells carried with him life-long following the death of Michael, his son. The disc concludes with the Messiaen-esque Laus Deo. The composer, Jonathan Harvey, had a dream, in which this music was played by a “shimmering” angel on the organ. It is frenzied, almost infernal music, that leads one to wonder whether it was an angel of St Michael’s that featured in Harvey’s dream, or one of the dragon’s …! 

This is an incredibly varied, demanding and ambitious programme - this is not light listening! Few pieces really stand out (the Vaughan Williams, Howells and Britten), and it must have been quite a challenge for the performers. Yet the Choir of Westminster Abbey under their conductor James O’Donnell, and organist Robert Quinney, rose to the occasion in extremely well disciplined performances of the very highest quality.

Em Marshall


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