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Roxanna PANUFNIK (b. 1968)
Douai Missa Brevis (2001) [12.44] 1
Spring (1997) [7.04] 2
Prayer (2000) [5.49] 3
The Christmas life (2002) [2.30] 4
Angels sing! (2000) [10.43] 5
Westminster Mass (1997) [25.48] 6
Katherine Seaton,1 Helen Semple,14 Bridget Corduroy3 (sopranos), David Rees-Jones (tenor)4, Jeremy Filsell (organ)245, Joyful Company of Singers/Peter Broadbent12345: Timothy Lacy (treble), Choir of Westminster Cathedral, City of London Sinfonia/James O’Donnell6
rec. Temple Church, London, March 200312345: Westminster Cathedral, May 19996
WARNER APEX 256465186-0 [65.39]

This is a straightforward reissue of an earlier CD release from 2003. That release included in its turn an earlier recording of the Westminster Mass first released in 1999. The original issue gave us full texts and information on the music included here, all of it of interest and much of it essential for a proper understanding of the composer’s music.
As is customary with these Warner Apex reissues, the insert booklet has been completely stripped of any information regarding the music. This is really not good enough for music that is likely to be totally unfamiliar to any purchaser, and must severely restrict the usefulness of this re-release. There were already notes in existence with the original issue, so no further expense would have been required to reproduce these here; nor have Warner made any attempt to supply the missing information, for example by making it available on the internet. I fail to understand the rationale behind such cheese-paring. I have complained about this with Apex reissues on several previous occasions. In the case of new music the absence of any booklet information is even more serious. Under the circumstances, although one is grateful for the chance to hear the music, new listeners should if possible seek out second-hand copies of the original release rather than invest in this new one. Also look out for the original Teldec release of the Westminster Mass, coupled with music by other composers; it remains available.
Having got this gripe out of the way, both the music and the performances well repay the listener. Panufnik is not the greatest of melodists, but she has a rare harmonic ear and some of the writing would stretch the most professional of choirs. The four Polish carols grouped as Angels sing! were written for a children’s choir in the London Borough of Ealing – not that we are told that here – and would have taxed the amateur singers to the utmost of their capacities. There need however be no fears regarding the competence of the two choirs here, both of whom sound thoroughly comfortable with the challenges the composer throws at them. The ending of the Agnus Dei in the Westminster Mass is sung by the Westminster Cathedral choristers with a real sense of intensity.
For those who are interested in this music and are unable to procure a second-hand copy of the original release, I think I should provide some of the basic information. Spring is a setting of Gerard Manley Hopkins, and reflects every aspect of that complex personality’s poem. The Westminster Mass, although written for the Roman Catholic cathedral at Westminster rather than the Anglican Abbey, sets the words in English although employing the Catholic liturgical order. However a motet, Deus meus, is inserted in place of the Credo, and after the Benedictus there is a ‘memorial acclamation’ – the work was written for the 75th birthday of the late Cardinal Hume. The Prayer includes some moments of real harmonic beauty, and the Douai Missa Brevis has echoes of Orthodox chant. The latest work on this disc is the 2002 setting of Wendy Cope’s poem The Christmas life, where the composer demonstrates yet again her control over the technique of serenely beautiful dissonances. Where in the earlier pieces sometimes a lack of real melodic distinctiveness is apparent, here she produces a stupendously beautiful tune which is only spoiled by some rather lacklustre solo singing. The Polish carols (in English translation) use traditional melodies and here Panufnik provides intriguing organ accompaniments which are well if somewhat distantly played by Jeremy Filsell.
In the course of my researches into the earlier release I came across a decidedly curmudgeonly review from the Manchester Evening News whose reviewer suggested that Roxanna Panufnik had two major advantages: her “drop-dead gorgeous looks” which would be a gift to any record company, and “the fact that her father Sir Andrzej Panufnik was a major composer.” This is really unfair. The record company totally fail here to exploit the former ‘advantage’ – there are no pictures provided at all apart from the nondescript cover illustration. Her father’s only substantial work for chorus, the Universal Prayer, although it was recorded for LP by none other than Stokowski in 1972, never seems to have found its way onto CD at all. No, Roxanna Panufnik deserves to be considered very much a composer in her own right, and a considerable one at that, as the wide range of these pieces amply testifies. Well worth investigation, then, but – oh, the abysmal presentation of these valuable reissues!
Paul Corfield Godfrey