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Gregorio ALLEGRI (1582-1652)
Missa in Lectulo Meo [27.25]
Miserere mei Deus [12.18]
Motet: Christus resurgens ex mortuis * [4.07]
Missa Christus resurgens ex mortuis * [22.47]
Pierre BONHOMME (c.1555-1617)
Motet: In Lectulo Meo [3.32
The Choir of King’s College, London/David Trendell
*Simon Hogan (organ continuo)
rec. 14-16 June 2011, St. John’s Church, Upper Norwood, London . DDD
Latin texts and English translations included
DELPHIAN DCD34103 [72.15]

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 (review). 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. Perhaps 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 but in 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 ear.

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 solid foundations.

John Quinn

Previous review: Gary Higginson