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Miserere - A Sequence of Music for Lent, St. Joseph and the Annunciation
For track-listing see below
The Choir of Westminster Cathedral/Martin Baker
Peter Stevens (organ)
rec. Westminster Cathedral, 12-13 July, 4-5 October 2012
HYPERION CDA67938 [79.15]

Although the release date for this recording was given as 3 January 2013 I did not receive my review copy until after Easter so listening to it as part of some Lenten penitential reflection was not possible for me. That said, it is clear that that is how Hyperion and Martin Baker, the sensitive master of Music who together have brilliantly planned this CD, would have had exactly in mind. Even so, it is a disc you can hear right through at one sitting, or, indeed at any time of the year or in fact sitting in the sun whilst on holiday as I did. I am sure that it would always have a spiritually enhancing effect. The singing is enchanting and the rarefied mix of plainchant, polyphony and gentle homophony will work for anyone - for those with faith or for those with no faith. 

Now I need to put some flesh on the bones. You might remember George Malcolm, well known at one time as a harpsichordist of much repute, indeed a fine ‘early-music-man’ in general. It is less well-known that he had a highly successful tenure as Master of the Music at Westminster (1947-1959) and during that time he introduced some of his own pieces which were fashioned ideally for the liturgy. Whilst it is true that these are often modest in scope, they are also examples of ‘the art which conceals art’. His quasi-renaissance language weaves plainchant, the staple diet of the cathedral worship, into his own often purely functional polyphony in the way of Allegri’s Miserere. You can also hear it in Malcolm’s own Miserere, whichgives its title to the disc as a whole. It is certainly effective and less demanding than the former masterpiece but will never usurp its hold on Ash Wednesday or Holy Week evensong. Malcolm’s other contributions are similar but his motet Veritas mea is an impassioned work worthy of a wider audience.
 
There is other contemporary music too. Colin Mawby, once a chorister, is represented by a very moving setting of Justus ut Palma. Similarly functional is David Bevan’s modest and moving Magnificat quarti toni, which is immediately preceded by its plainchant. Use of particular modes as you can see in the track-listing is significant throughout and this one is on the fourth tone.
 
There is a tradition that plainchant at Westminster can often be accompanied chordally by the organ. This function is carried out beautifully here by Peter Stevens in the Cum Jubilo Mass found in the Graduale Romanum. I had forgotten what wonderful and expressive lines this Mass possesses. Its sections divide off various motets during the second half of the CD.
 
Earlier on in the disc, sections of Palestrina’s Missa Emendemus in melius are represented. With their sombre lines and harmonies it proves distinctly suitable for Lent. Robert Parsons’ Ave Maria which is deservedly such a regular part of the repertoire nowadays and Guerrero’s moving, canonic Ave Virgo remind us that Lent is interrupted by a day of solace, Mothering Sunday. More importantly as far as this CD is concerned, The Feast of the Annunciation falls on 25 March, just six days after the Feast of St. Joseph.
 
The emphasis at this penitential time is on forgiveness of sins, those of the world and our own. We can trace this theme through the opening plainchant Attende, Domine (Hear O Lord and have mercy for we have sinned against you) to Byrd’s setting of Emendemus in melius (not related to the Palestrina) ‘Let us make amends for the sins we have committed’, Giovanni Croce’s angst-ridden, St, Mark’s motet In spiritu humilitatis to the closing Nunc Dimittis Antiphon - Save us O Lord, while waking. The whole eighty minutes of the disc is cast in a mood of beauty and sobriety.
 
The CD is made even more attractive by the cover reproduction of a painting of the Visitation to the Blessed Virgin Mary by the wonderful Siennese artist Simone Martini.
 
Gary Higginson 

See also review by John Quinn
 
Track-Listing
1. Plainsong: Attende, Domine [3.24]
2. George MALCOLM (1917-1997) Miserere mei, Deus [8.43]
3. William BYRD (1543-1623) Emendemus in melius [4.31]
4. Giovanni da PALESTRINA (1525-1594) Missa Emendemus in melius - Kyrie [2.39]
5. Agnus dei [5.05]
6. George MALCOLM Scapulis suis [4.11]
7. Plainsong: Audi, benigne conditor [2.39]
8. Giovanni CROCE (1557-1609) In Spiritu humilatatis [5.35]
9. Magnificat Antiphon: Evigilia super nos [0.46]
10. David BEVAN (b.1951) Magnificat quarti toni [4.45]
11. Antiphon Repeat: Evigilia super nos
12. Colin MAWBY (b.1936) Justus ut palma [4.06]
13. Plainsong Mass IX ‘Cum Jubilo’: Kyrie [2.05]
14. Gloria [3.21]
15. George MALCOLM: Veritas mea [3.14]
16. Plainsong: Credo IV [4.37]
17. Robert PARSONS (1535-1572) Ave Maria [5.35]
18. Plainsong Mass ‘Cum Jubilo’: Sanctus and Benedictus [1.39]
19. Agnus dei [1.31]
20. Francisco GUERRERO (1528-1599) Ave virgo sanctissima [4.59]
21. Thomas TALLIS (c.1505-1585) Te lucis ante terminum - first setting [2.07]
Nunc Dimittis Antiphon: Salva nos, Domine [0.28]
22. George MALCOLM: Nunc Dimittis tertii toni [1.38]
23. Antiphon repeat: Salva nos, Domine [0.39] 

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