David Trendell, who here conducts the Choir of King’s College, London,
died suddenly at the end of October 2014; he was just fifty years old.
Trendell, who began his life in music as a chorister at Norwich Cathedral,
was Organ Scholar at Exeter College, Oxford after which he held posts at
Winchester College and back in Oxford before becoming College Organist and
Lecturer in Music at King’s College, London in 1992. I think it would be
fair to say that it was his work with the College’s choir that put it firmly
on the musical map and their recordings together for Delphian played an
important part in establishing their joint reputation.
Trendell’s main area of interest lay in music of the sixteenth and early
seventeenth centuries, especially that of William Byrd, but he ranged much
more widely that that, not least on disc. Not long ago, for example, I
admired his recording of music by the twentieth century French composer,
Alfred Desenclos (review
). Delphian also brought Trendell and his
London singers together with another student group, the choir of Gonville
and Caius College, Cambridge to form a kind of ’superchoir’. For these
ventures Trendell and his Cambridge colleague, Geoffrey Webber, jointly
presided over a collection of German Romantic choral music (review
) and, even more memorably, Shchedrin’s
The Sealed Angel
). Trendell and the King’s choir also made a few
recordings for other labels, including one of music by Lobo, which I have
not heard (review
This disc is particularly valuable for demonstrating that there was far
more to Allegri that the all-too-ubiquitous Miserere.
inevitably that’s included here – and in a good performance. David Trendell
follows the trend of fairly recent performance practice by having the
chanted verses sung by a solo cantor, the reliable Joshua Edwards, one of
the King’s basses. The solo quartet is distanced from the main choir, though
I’ve heard other recordings when the quartet has been more distant, which
can be magical in effect.
The main interest lies not in the over-recorded Miserere
the two Masses, both of which here receive their first recordings. They are
among the five Mass settings that Allegri composed. Both are parody Masses,
based on a theme from another piece. In each case the motet which inspired
the Mass is sung after the Credo of the Mass concerned. That’s liturgically
correct though listeners may find it helpful to do as I did and listen to
the motet first so as to ground the source material for the Mass in one’s
The Missa in Lectulo Meo
is based on a motet by the Flemish
composer, Pierre Bonhomme. The text of the motet is verse from the Song of
Songs, ‘In my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loveth.’ The motet is
largely antiphonal and the music is vigorous, at least as performed here.
Writing of the Kyrie of the Mass, David Trendell refers to ‘parody mass
writing at its finest, taking an idea from the model and building it
quasi una fantasia
into a vibrant new work.’ In truth the whole
Mass setting is pretty impressive. The Kyrie features some vigorous
syncopated writing, which is strongly projected here. The Kyrie, which
includes a triple ‘Christe’, is a substantial composition and, unusually in
my experience, this movement is longer than the entire Gloria.
In the Gloria we hear some excellent full-choir sections and Allegri’s
antiphonal effects come off well. There’s some really fervent singing in
this movement, not least in the closing bars. The Credo includes a good deal
of spirited music to which the choir responds very well. The ‘Et
incarnatus’, on the other hand, is slow, expansive and richly sung after
which the reduced vocal forces for the ‘Crucifixus’ offer good contrast. I
admired the lovely, plaintive lines in the slow-moving Agnus Dei.
Missa Christus resurgens ex mortuis
takes as its model an Easter
motet by Allegri himself. This is a setting of a text from St. Paul’s
Epistle to the Romans, ‘Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more’.
This piece, appropriately, includes rising scales on the word ‘resurgens’
and this motif is important in the Mass; indeed, one can hear it almost as
soon as the Kyrie begins. This Kyrie is not as substantial as the same
movement in the companion Mass. In part that’s because Allegri didn’t set
the ‘Christe’ polyphonically – nor the Benedictus. Both of these sections
are chanted in this performance.
The Gloria is sung excitingly, even when the music slows at ‘Qui tollis’.
At the very end, for ‘in gloria Dei Patris’ Allegri increases the excitement
by switching to triple time, a device he adopts in several other salient
passages of this Mass. The Credo is well sung, though at the ‘Crucifixus’
the tenors and basses momentarily sound a little uncertain in pitch,
betraying, perhaps, that we are listening to a student choir; but that’s a
pretty isolated lapse. The setting ends with an expansive, richly-textured
double Agnus Dei. This Mass and its associated motet include a continuo
organ part, which is discreetly played by Simon Hogan.
The choir comprises 29 singers (10/5/7/7). I mentioned one small lapse in
the singing but overall I was most impressed with the performances on this
disc. The voices are young and fresh and the choral sound is consistently
pleasing. But what strikes the listener more than anything else is the
enthusiasm of these singers. There’s no doubt that they’re enjoying
singing this music and their commitment shines like a beacon. It must have
given them particular satisfaction to be setting down recorded premières;
not everyone gets to do that. No doubt they were inspired in equal measure
by the music, by the occasion and by their conductor.
The recorded sound is very good. One has the impression of being quite
close to the singers and when the polyphony is intense, as is frequently the
case, it can make for an effect that some may find a bit overpowering. I
like it – the effect is akin to being in a cathedral or church quire, close
to the singers in the choir stalls - but others might prefer the impression
of just a bit more distance between the singers and the listener. The notes
are by David Trendell himself and are very useful.
Sadly, I believe there are no further recordings by David Trendell waiting
to be issued, though more had been planned. Whoever succeeds him as director
of the King’s College choir will have big shoes to fill but, as this very
good disc demonstrates, he or she will be able to build on impressively
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