York was an important city to the Romans – Eboracum.
York Minster, the seat of the Archbishop of York and one of the largest
Gothic churches in northern Europe, boasts a long and distinguished
musical tradition going back beyond the present building to the time
of St Paulinus, one of those who brought Christianity to the north of
England. A previous disc entitled Masters of the Music
CD 164) contained an interesting variety of music by Directors of Music
at the Minster from the sixteenth century John Thorne to Philip Moore.
The present disc also includes much music with York connections by Edwin
Monk, George Dyson and Philip Moore, all “Masters of the Music”, and
adds the name of Richard Shephard, one-time Headmaster of York Minster
School and Chamberlain of the Minster and now its Director of Development.
Like the majority of the music here, the works by these composers was written for specific purposes, and, as is so often the case, those specific demands have proved both a straitjacket and an inspiration. Dyson’s familiar setting of the Evensong canticles exudes Edwardian confidence and vigour, especially as performed here. Shephard’s setting, written in 2008 for an American university, is less obviously confident but shares the same delight in word-setting and in choral sound. The works by Philip Moore and Edwin Monk are more obviously gebrauchsmusik
for the church. All do their job admirably and sensitively although I do not expect to listen to these tracks as often as to the larger works.
The largest and longest work on the disc is the Widor Mass for two choirs and two organs. This has often been recorded before but seldom has it made as much impact as it does here. It was written in 1878 for performance at Saint-Sulpice in Paris where Widor was organist from 1870 to 1933. The “first choir” consists of massed unison baritones and was intended for the ordinands of the Paris seminary adjacent to Saint-Sulpice. Right from the dramatic opening contrasting the two organs and two choirs in the Kyrie
to the quiet and gentle end of the Dona nobis pacem
the listener’s interest is maintained. In a less persuasive performance and recording doubts can arise as to whether the commonplace could be said to creep in at times, but not here. I found it riveting from start to finish, all the more refreshing as the demands of the service restrict its length to under fifteen minutes – for a composer whose organ works can perhaps tend at times to outstay their welcome this discipline was no bad thing.
The layout of the disc into music for the Eucharist, Matins and Evensong on Epiphany Sunday is more purposeful than is the case with the more miscellaneous collections that many Cathedral choir discs contain. Other highlights include Richard Shephard’s ingenious if not altogether convincing Strauss arrangement and Jonathan Dove’s fine setting of a poem by Dorothy Sayers. The Collegium Regale Te Deum
of Howells ensures that the disc ends with music of real quality.
Regent have added to the listener’s enjoyment by providing excellent notes and full texts, as well as a recording whose quality immediately took me back to those occasions when I have been fortunate enough to attend services in York Minster. Discs by English Cathedral Choirs have been issued in apparently increasing numbers in the last few years but few are of the quality and imagination
of this disc.