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CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS

Tu es Petrus
Charles Marie WIDOR (1844-1937)
Tu es Petrus (1876) [3:25]
Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902-1986)
Messe “Cum jubilo” [19:51]; Tu es Petrus (1960) [0:50]
Jonathan DOVE (b. 1959)
Missa Brevis (2009) [13:48]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Hymn to St. Peter [5:53]
Thierry ESCAICH (b. 1965)
Grande Messe Solenelle (1997) [16:52]
Carl RÜTTI (b. 1949)
St. Peter and St. Paul (1997) [6:55]
The Choir of Sheffield Cathedral//Neil Taylor
Anthony Gowing (organ)
rec. 6-8 July 2010, Sheffield Cathedral. DDD
Texts and English translations included
REGENT REGCD360 [67:39]

Experience Classicsonline

Here’s an interesting idea. The cathedral at Sheffield is dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul so the programme for this CD has been put together, according to the notes, as “a good representation of a liturgical choir’s core repertoire; settings of the propers of the mass and anthems and motets, in this case in honour of St. Peter and St. Paul.” If this programme is indeed representative of the staple musical fare at Sheffield Cathedral then it’s exceptionally enterprising.
There are three fairly short Mass settings here. I was especially keen to hear the one by Jonathan Dove, since the vocal music of his that I’ve heard has impressed me. HisMissa Brevis doesn’t disappoint. I love the driving, propulsive music in the outer sections of the Gloria, the more so since the choir sings the music with fine spirit and energy. The Sanctus and Benedictus, combined in one movement, are enterprising too while the Agnus Dei starts in a subdued tone and builds to an impassioned climax before the music subsides back to achieve a quiet end. I can see this becoming a popular setting with good choirs.
I’m not sure that will be the fate of the Grande Messe Solenelle of Thierry Escaich. For those to whom, like me, his name was new, he is a composer and organist who has been Organist of the church of St. Etienne-du-Mont in Paris since 1996 - the same church where Duruflé served as organist from 1930 until his death. Anthony Gowing, the organist here - and author of the useful notes - has studied with him and I wonder if that’s how the work came to the attention of Sheffield Cathedral. The choir gave the first liturgical performance in the UK in 2010 - previously The BBC Singers had sung it in concert - and this is its first recording by a UK choir. I have to say that, even after listening a few times it’s a work to which, while I may respect it, I find it hard to warm and more than once I wondered what the Sheffield Cathedral congregation made of it. Like several other French Masses, such as the Vierne Messe solenelle in C sharp minor, it is written for two organs - the Grand Orgue and a smaller choir organ; Anthony Gowing reduces these parts to be played on a single instrument.
Gowing, who is clearly an enthusiast, describes the music in the Kyrie as “at once aggressive and lyrical”. To be honest, I get more of the former than the latter - throughout much of the work. In the Kyrie the choral writing is often jagged in style and I completely agree with Gowing that it’s “uncompromising”. There’s a huge organ part. For a lot of the time the music in the Gloria is vigorous and strongly rhythmical. Though the mass is sung in French, during the latter stages of the Gloria the Latin words “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” are repeated over and over by one section or another of the choir. The frantic, driving conclusion of the movement veers towards the aggressive but it’s undeniably exciting. The Sanctus starts menacingly and achieves an imposing climax at the Hosanna. The Agnus Dei begins in dissonant darkness though it does achieve a gentle, luminous close. Escaich packs a lot into each short movement. The music sounds very challenging to perform but the Sheffield choir acquits itself well.
The Duruflé is the most familiar of the Mass settings here recorded. Like so much else of this composer’s quite limited output it’s securely founded on plainchant. It’s scored for a chorus of unison baritones - here I imagine the tenors and basses unite - with organ accompaniment. The Sheffield men make a good sound and deliver Duruflé’s flowing lines securely. The middle of the Gloria and the Benedictus feature a solo baritone. Here the singer is Jeremy Dawson, who’s listed among the choir’s tenors. He sounds a bit strained in his solo in the Gloria though he fares rather better in the more reflective music of the Benedictus. I admired particularly the way the Agnus Dei is delivered: the choir, splendidly accompanied by Anthony Gowing, give a most atmospheric account of this gentle movement.
Among the shorter works I much prefer Duruflé’s fluid setting of Tu es Petrus to the grander - indeed, grandiose - setting by Widor. I also prefer the performance of the Duruflé. In the Widor it sounds to me as if the men in particular rather over sing in the louder music; the Westminster Cathedral Choir (Hyperion CDA66898) show how it should be done and I also prefer the slightly quicker tempo on that recording. The pieces by Britten and Carl Rütti are well done. The latter, which may be unfamiliar to many, is an impressive and very dramatic composition in which a variety of scriptural passages relating ether to St Peter or St Paul are convincingly knitted together.

Neil Taylor is to be congratulated in putting together such an adventurous and stimulating programme. His choir may not quite match the very best British cathedral choirs but they acquit themselves very well in music before which many choirs would quail. Anthony Gowing, whose appointment as Assistant Director of Music at Gloucester Cathedral has just been announced plays the organ parts, all of which are challenging albeit in different ways, with great virtuosity: I wonder, in passing, how soon Gloucester will hear the music of Thierry Escaich. This imaginatively planned and well executed programme of liturgical music is well worth investigating.
John Quinn



















































































































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