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The Legend of Sacred Music
see end of review for details
VIRGIN CLASSICS 522144 2 [79:15 + 78:18]
Experience Classicsonline


This selection of choral greats begins with the dramatic Dies Irae from Verdi’s Requiem. This is a rousing opening to the disc. It’s contrasted well with Barber’s Agnus Dei, heard next in a well executed performance by David Hill and Winchester Cathedral Choir.

As can be seen from the first two tracks, sacred choral music covers a repertoire of much diversity, with moments of thunderous energy and exquisite beauty in almost equal measure. This selection on Virgin Classics covers everything from Allegri and Lotti to Arvo Pärt and Duruflé. All the staples are covered, with extracts from works such as Bach’s B minor Mass, Mozart’s Requiem, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Fauré’s Requiem and, perhaps the most famous of them all, Handel’s Messiah. These kinds of albums serve two main purposes. One is as the only disc in a genre that someone might buy, with a selection of highlights from the repertoire. The other is to serve as an introduction to the genre, which might entice a listener to buy complete versions of works or to try new repertoire. For the first of these, this is an excellent collection, with some good performances and an enjoyable selection of highlights. On the other hand, this two-disc set does little to introduce gems of lesser known repertoire to a wider audience. There is very little repertoire from either the early or late periods - no Palestrina or Messiaen, for instance.

Allegri’s Miserere is given a somewhat strained performance by the Taverner Consort, with a slower tempo than I am used to, and a slightly grating soprano line which lacked the purity of a treble voice. Mozart’s Laudate Dominum is beautifully performed by Barabara Hendricks with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields; the muted string and chorus sounds have a magical effect, allowing the soloist space to soar above. Lotti wrote a Crucifixus in 6, 8 and 10 parts, and although the 8 part version is probably the best known, it is the 10 part which is heard here. The richness of the harmony is stunning, with flowing suspensions and building tension through dissonance. Fauré’s beautiful Cantique de Jean Racine is given a subtle and well formed performance, while Mozart’s Requiem is represented through the Kyrie and an uncommon reconstruction of the Lacrimosa.

Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes from Haydn’s Die Schöpfung is among the highlights of the first disc, heard here in a dazzling performance. Similarly, the Heilig? Heilig, heilig movement from Schubert’s German Mass is performed with a sense of respectful calmness. Duruflé’s beautifully crafted Ubi Caritas comes as a wonderfully peaceful interlude after the spectacular magnificence of the extract from Elijah which precedes it, and the disc is brought to a close with the Pie Jesu and In Paradisum from Fauré’s Requiem.

Disc two begins with the rousing Hallelujah Chorus in an excellent rendition from the Ambrosian Chorus under Charles Mackerras. A stunning performance of the opening of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater follows, with some wonderfully expressive phrasing and wonderfully matched solo voices gently accompanied by Il Seminario Musicale. The opening movement from Vivaldi’s Gloria is beautifully and energetically performed, while the woodwind solos in the Et Incarnatus Est from Mozart’s C minor Mass provide an interesting orchestral colour against Ileana Cotrubas’s expressive soprano voice.

Rossini’s operatic-styled Inflammatus et accensus from the Stabat Mater is given a dramatic and highly convincing performance with Barbara Hendricks as soprano soloist, while the modernism of Poulenc’s harmony and orchestration provides a welcome contrast with the Laudamus Te of the Gloria. Bach’s St John Passion is represented in two enjoyably performed movements, Es ist vollbracht and Ruhl wohl, Ihr heilige Gebeine, with each movement performed by different ensembles with pleasingly different sounds, which allows for an interesting comparison of performance styles. Handel’s Zadok the Priest is also given an impressive performance, recorded in a resonant acoustic for an additional sense of grandeur. Rachmaninov’s Ave Maria, is expressive and enjoyably Romantic, while Arvo Pärt’s Magnificat is atmospheric with a well balanced sound and a wonderful sense of direction, tension and release. The disc comes to a close with Duruflé’s magical setting of the Lord’s Prayer, which is one of the most enjoyable works on the disc.

This is an interesting and varied collection, which is well produced and provides a good introduction to the genre. A good starting point for anyone interested in exploring sacred choral music.

Carla Rees 

Track listing
CD 1
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) Dies Irae (Requiem) [2:07]
Samuel BARBER (1910 - 1981) Agnus Dei [7:42]
George Frederic HANDEL (1685 - 1759) Dixit Dominus [5:18]
Gregorio ALLEGRI (1582 - 1652) Miserere [6:49]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Chorale “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” from Cantata BWV 147 [3:29]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Laudate Dominum from Vesperae solennes de Confessore [5:25]
Antonio LOTTI Crucifixus a 10 [3:05]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Mass in B minor BWV 232: Gloria [7:02]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924) Cantique de Jean Racine [5:50]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-11924) Messa di Gloria: Kyrie [4:43]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Requiem: Kyrie [2:13]
Lacrimosa [3:36]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) Die Schöpfung: Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes [3:28]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Deutsche Messe D 872: Heilig?, Heilig, Heilig [2:27]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Die Ehre Gottes aus der Nature (die Himmel rühmen) Op. 48 No 4 [2:28]
Maurice DURUFLE (1902-1986) Ubi caritas [2:37]
Gabriel FAURE (1845-1924) Requiem: Pie Jesu [3:17]
In Paradisum [3:59]
CD 2
George Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759) Messiah: Hallelujah [3:59]
Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710 - 1736) Stabat Mater [4:39]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741) Gloria: Gloria in excelsis deo [2:26]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791) Mass in C minor K427: Et incarnatus est [8:26]
Ave Verum Corpus K618 [2:36]
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792 - 1868) Stabat Mater: Inflammatus et accensus [4:34]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893) Messe Solennelle de Sainte Cécile: Sanctus [5:29]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963) Gloria: Laudamus te [3:08]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) Ave Maria (from 4 Pezzi scari) [5:54]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Johannes Passion BWV 245: es ist vollbracht [5:51]
Ruht wohl, ihr heilige Gebeine [8:02]
George Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759) Zadok the Priest [6:07]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) Ein deutsches Requiem: Wi lieblich sind deine Wohnungen [4:42]
Serge RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Ave Maria [2:39]
Arvo PART (b.1935) Magnificat [7:29]
Maurice DURUFLE (1902-1986) Notre Père op. 14 [1:37]
Barbara Hendricks, Barbara Bonney, Magali Dami, Véronique Gens, Ileana Cotrubus, Catherine Dubosc (soprano); Gérard Lesne (alto) Hans Peter Blochwitz, Laurence Dale (tenor); Jan Hendrik Rootering (bass)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon; Winchester Cathedral Choir; Kings College Choir, Cambridge; Taverner Consort; Academy Chorus; Taverner Chorus; Collegium Vocale, Gent; Schütz Choir; Südfunkchor Stuttgart; Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks; New Philharmonia Chorus; Chor des Städtischen Musikvereins zu Düsseldorf; Ensemble Vocal de Lausanne; Ambrosian Singers; Eric Ericson’s Chamber Choir; Choeurs de Radio France; Westminster Singers; Swedish Radio Chorus; Stockholm Chamber Choir; Orfeon Donostiarra; English Chamber Orchestra; Academy of St Martin in the Fields; London Classical Players; Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart; Symphonie-Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks; New Philharmonia Orchestra; Gürzenich-Orchester Kölner Philharmoniker; Ensemble Instrumental de Lausanne; Il Seminario Musicale; Taverner Players; Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Nouvel Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France; City of London Sinfonia; Ensemble Orchestral de Paris; Jérome Hantaï (viola da gamba); Michael Corboz, David Hill, Phillip Ledger, Andrew Parrott, Neville Marriner, Philippe Herreweghe, Roger Norrington, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Wilhelm Pitz, James Conlon, Charles Mackerras, Raymond Leppard, Eric Ericson, Georges Prêtre, Richard Hickox, Riccardo Muti, John Nelson, Tonu Kaljuste, Michael Plasson (conductors)
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