Miserere - A Sequence of Music for Lent, St. Joseph, and The Annunciation
see end of review for track listing
Choir of Westminster Cathedral/Martin Baker
Peter Stevens (organ)
rec. 12-13 July, 4-5 October 2011, Westminster Cathedral. DDD
Latin texts and English translations included
HYPERION CDA67938 [79:15]
Hyperion have provided us with an enriching series of recitals of liturgical music from both Westminster Cathedral and Westminster Abbey over the last few years. Here is the latest offering from Britain’s premier Roman Catholic choir.
According to the title of the programme it is a sequence of music for Lent, taking in two feasts that invariably occur during that season: St. Joseph (March 19) and The Annunciation (March 25). However, I couldn’t spot any music specifically assigned to St Joseph’s feast day although the piece by Guerrero sets an antiphon for the feast of the Birth of St, John the Baptist (June 24). No matter; the programme is still well constructed and very satisfying.
Plainchant is at the core of the programme, as we shall see, but due regard is paid to two of Martin Baker’s distinguished predecessors as Master of the Music at Westminster Cathedral: George Malcolm (1947-1959) and Colin Mawby (1961-1976). In addition there’s a piece by David Bevan who was Mawby’s assistant between 1972 and 1976. This choir has plainchant as a staple of its repertoire and the programme includes several examples of the plainchant Masses that are regularly heard in the cathedral. There are also some plainchant hymns, of which the Lenten hymn, Attende, Domine, is a splendid example. Most of the plainchant is discreetly accompanied, in accordance with normal practice, by Peter Stevens. Plainchant informs George Malcolm’s setting of Psalm 51, the Miserere. His piece more than doffs its cap to Allegri yet I find that Malcolm’s setting is more imaginative than that of his more celebrated predecessor. He varies the music in the verses, often only subtly, and provides further interest by setting individual verses for different combinations of voices, thereby avoiding the repetitiousness of Allegri’s setting. David Bevan’s Magnificat, appropriately preceded and followed by a plainchant antiphon, is also plainsong-based, as is Malcolm’s equally effective Nunc dimittis, which is framed by the antiphon for Night Prayer.
I was seriously impressed by Malcolm’s Scapulis suis, a very fine a cappella setting of words from Psalm 91. This music is steeped in the choir’s bedrock repertoire of Renaissance polyphony to which legacy Malcolm adds some well-crafted twentieth-century twists. Also impressive is Colin Mawby’s Iustus ut palma, an urgent setting - at least, as performed here - of words from Psalms 84 and 92. William Gaunt is the excellent baritone soloist and in this piece the cathedral’s organ is given a freer rein.
What I called the Westminster choir’s bedrock repertoire of Renaissance polyphony is well represented too. Byrd’s magisterial penitential motet Emendemus in melius receives a sonorous performance. The presentation is a long way from the intimacy of consort performances but, of course, it’s entirely appropriate for the large acoustic of Westminster Cathedral and both approaches are equally valid in my view. The Byrd piece comes from the Cantiones sacrae (1575) and that’s also the source for Te lucis ante terminum by Tallis. Both pieces are extremely well done. The choir proves equally up to the challenges of the movements from Palestrina’s Mass Emendemus in melius which is based on a motet with the same title as Byrd’s though the motet which is the source for the Mass is unknown.
This is a beautifully performed, discerningly chosen programme which constitutes a very satisfying sequence. It was, perhaps, fitting that by sheer chance I did my listening on the two days preceding Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent but the fine music included here can be appreciated whatever the time of year. The choral singing throughout is first class and the recording team of engineer, David Hinitt and producer, Adrian Peacock have done their usual excellent job: the choir is very well recorded and one gets a good sense of the spacious acoustic of Westminster Cathedral. Excellent notes by Jeremy Summerly complete the attractiveness of this most desirable disc.
A beautifully performed, discerningly chosen programme.
Attende, Domine [3:24]
George MALCOLM (1917-1997)
Miserere mei, Deus [8:43]
William BYRD (1539/40-1623)
Emendemus in melius [4:31]
Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA (1525/6-1594)
Missa Emendemus in melius: Kyrie [2:39]
Missa Emendemus in melius: Agnus Dei [5:05]
George MALCOLM Scapulis suis [4:11]
Plainsong Audi, benigne conditor [2:39]
Giovanni CROCE (1557-1609)
In spiritu humilitatis [5:35]
Magnificat Antiphon: Evigila super nos [0:46]
David BEVAN (b. 1951)
Magnificat quarti toni [4:45]
Antiphon repeat: Evigila super nos [0:51]
Colin MAWBY (b. 1936)
Iustus ut palma [4:06]
Mass IX ‘Cum iubilo’: Kyrie [2:05]
George MALCOLM Veritas mea [3:14]
Credo IV [4:37]
Robert PARSONS (c 1535-1572)
Ave Maria [5:35]
Mass IX ‘Cum iubilo’: Sanctus and Benedictus [1:39]
Agnus Dei [1:31]
Francisco GUERRERO (1528-1599)
Ave virgo sanctissima [4:59]
Thomas TALLIS (c 1505-1585)
Te lucis ante terminum - first setting [2:07]
Nunc dimittis Antiphon: Salva nos, Domine [0:28]
George MALCOLM Nunc dimittis tertii toni [1:38]
Antiphon repeat: Salva nos, Domine [0:39]
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