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From the Vaults of Westminster Cathedral - A procession of Chant and Polyphony
From Advent to Christmas and the Epiphany and Presentation of Our Lord
Rorate Coeli [5.12]
Tomas Luis da VICTORIA (1548 – 1611)
Descendit Agnelus Domini [4.52]
William BYRD (1539/40 – 1623)
Rorate Coeli (1605) [4.07]
Kyrie, Mass X 'Alme Pater' [1.46]
Gloria, Mass X 'Alme Pater' [3.02]
William BYRD (1439/40 – 1623)
Tollite portas, Ave Maria (1605) [3.54]
Sanctus and Benedictus, Mass X 'Alme Pater' [0.52]
Agnus Dei, Mass X 'Alme Pater' [0.56]
William BYRD
Ecce virgo concipiet (1605) [1.46]
Psalm 2 [3.20]
Matthew MARTIN (b. 1976)
Adam lay ybounden (2006) [3.13]
George MALCOLM (1917 – 1997)
Kyrie, Missa Ad praesepe (1959) [1.55]
Gloria, Missa Ad praesepe (1959) [6.05]
Sanctus and Benedictus, Mass IX, 'Cum Iubilo' [1.36]
Agnus Dei, Missa Ad praesepe (1959) [1.59]
Ecce advenit [2.32]
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567 – 1643)
Gloria, Messa a 4 da cappella [3.54]
Vidimus stellam [2.13]
Sanctus and Benedictus, Messa a 4 da cappella [3.12]
Orlandus LASSUS (1532 – 1594) Omnes de Saba (1604) [2.54]
Agnus Dei, Messa a 4 da cappella [3.12]
Maurice BEVAN (1921 – 2006)
Magnificat [7.26]
Charles WOOD (1866 – 1926)
Nunc Dimittis in B flat (1916) [3.17]
Martin BAKER (b. 1967)
Marche des Rois mages [3.10]
Matthew Martin (organ); Martin Baker (organ improvisations)
Choir of Westminster Cathedral/Martin Baker
rec. Westminster Cathedral, 9-11, 13 July 2007
HYPERION CDA67707 [77.45] 


Experience Classicsonline

The title of this disc, From the Vaults of Westminster Cathedral, gives a clue to its intentions. The music presented here - mass sequences for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany - is not intended to be an historic reconstruction of early practice, but to reflect the traditions and performing practices of Westminster Cathedral itself.

The cathedral's musical foundations were laid by Richard Terry, who was Master of Music from 1902 to 1924. Whereas contemporary Anglican cathedrals had repertoires which were heavily dependent on 19th century music, Terry was keen that music at the Cathedral would reflect aspects of Catholic liturgical renewal, so that the two main supports were renaissance polyphony and plainchant. To this was added a stream of contemporary commissions, notable amongst which was Ralph Vaughan Williams' Mass in G minor. Substantially, polyphony, plainchant and commissioned works remain the mainstays of the choir's repertoire today.

Before we get all romantic and imagine the men and boys of the cathedral choir singing plainchant in what is perceived as a pure unaccompanied medieval manner, it must be understood that they adhere to the Roman Catholic tradition of accompanying the chant on the organ. This means that the opening Rorate Coeli develops a very romantic atmosphere as the verses alternate between soli, boys and men before finally building to full choir, all accompanied by organ.

The first section starts with this plainchant Rorate Coeli and is followed by Victoria's Descendit Angelus Domini.. We then have another Rorate Coeli, this time a setting by William Byrd, acting as the Introit to the Votive Mass for the Blessed Virgin Mary in Advent. Here the mass ordinary is sung to the plainchant Mass X 'Alme Pater'. As everywhere else on the disc, the plainchant mixes boys only, men only and full choir, all with organ. Byrd's Tollite Portas forms the Gradual, his Ave Maria the Alleluia and his Ecce Virgo concipiet the Communion, all (including the Introit) are the correct propers for the Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Miry in Advent taken from Byrd's Gradualia.

The Christmas sequence starts with plainchant Psalm 2 sung in English, followed by a setting of Adam lay y bounden by Matthew Martin, the current organist. This lovely unaccompanied piece displays rich textures and nice clarity. Then George Malcolm's Missa ad Praesepe; Malcolm was the Cathedral's Master of Music from 1947 to 1959. This gentle tuneful work, for choir and organ, is definitely not neo-Palestrina, as the choral writing is substantially homophonic.

The final sequence is for Epiphany and the Presentation. Here Monteverdi's Messa a 4 da cappella is interspersed with a plainchant Alleluia and Lassus's Omnes de Saba. The Monteverdi is performed in a very definitely choral manner, with quite a big sound, rather than a more modern 1-to-a-part feel. The choir points the rhythms nicely, but the boys sometimes smudge the runs in faster moments like the Gloria. The sequence concludes with Maurice Bevan's Magnificat which alternates plainchant with polyphonic verses and improvised organ verses. Bevan's polyphonic verses are very much in the style of Gabrieli and contrast admirably with Martin Baker's lively improvisations. The Nunc Dimittis is by Charles Wood whose Latin setting was commissioned by Terry in 1916.

Finally Martin Baker improvises a Marche des Rois Mages at the Grande Orgue; a very perky march indeed with hints of Ralph Vaughan Williams.

The choir make a fine open sound. Though the trebles still have an edgier, more focused sound than the traditional English cathedral choir, I did rather feel that they have a softer edge than of late. When listening on headphones, I thought I detected hints of instability and untidiness in the upper voices, but this was far less apparent when listening on speakers. The choir have the big advantage in that they sing this repertoire day in day out; they actually sing as if the words really mean something to them, and their diction is admirable.

Martin Baker impressively drives the huge machine that is the Grande Orgue (all 78 stops of it) in the improvisations in the Bevan and at the end, along with Christmas strepitus after the intonation of the Gloria in the Missa ad praesepe.

This is an imaginative and attractive disc and will be of interest particularly to those who follow both Roman Catholic musical traditions and those of Westminster Cathedral. Perhaps the choir are not quite on their top form, but all in all they provide a nice snapshot of the Cathedral's distinctive musical heritage.

Robert Hugill



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