Frank MARTIN (1890-1974)
Mass for unaccompanied double choir [21:39]
Alonso LOBO (1555-1617)
Lamentationes Ieremiae Prophetae [16:37]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
Cambridge Chorale/Julian Wilkins
rec. Église St-Laurent, Roujan, France, 2010
CAMBRIDGE CHORALE no number [54:21]
This recording, released in March 2011, of beautiful, deeply-felt devotional music offers a rather unusual combination of compositions. Martin’s Mass (1922) and Howells’ Requiem (1932) may belong to the same period, but here they sandwich the far older Lamentationes Ieremiae Prophetae by the Spanish Renaissance master, Alonso Lobo, a close contemporary of Shakespeare. There is a certain connection in terms of the different publishing histories: Martin did not publish his Mass until 1963, describing the delay as ‘a matter between God and myself’; Howells’ Requiem was only published in 1980; Lobo’s work was long lost to the world until recovered, edited and published by Bruno Turner in 2000. Perhaps there is a narrative here about how deeply personal explorations of faith do not readily expose themselves to public scrutiny but there is also a Christian and theological connection. As Francis Steele notes in his introduction to the Lamentationes, ‘Each of the works on this recording serves, within the Church’s liturgy, as an aid to redemption and salvation. The Mass affirms the redemptive power of Christ’s death and resurrection, while the Requiem commends a soul to God in the hope of salvation. But it is penitence, the prerequisite for redemption, that is the focal point of Alonso Lobo’s Lamentations.’
Not every listener will be thinking of penitence and redemption. Anyone who responds to this CD at all is going to find it ‘soul coaxing’ music, to borrow an expression of Norrie Paramor’s. Musically speaking, the three compositions fit together remarkably well, highlighting both the general sense of timelessness and the fact that unaccompanied devotional music has evolved more slowly than just about any other genre of music. Indeed, it is the Howells rather than the Lobo that sounds the least harmonically adventurous, just as the Martin is the most dissonant, so there is a steady movement toward the quiet serenity the Requiem expresses so well. The recording was made in the medieval church of St Lawrence in Roujan, France, and the clarity and spaciousness of the acoustic is outstanding. Indeed, to a quite peculiar extent listening to this CD summons up images of church interiors. I was put in mind of Larkin’s poem ‘Church Going’ and the questions it poses about what we do with churches in a godless age. Making music in them is surely a good idea.
The Cambridge Chorale performance is very fine; I have nothing to fault. However it is only fair to note that there are multiple recordings of all these pieces on the market, including an acclaimed Hyperion disc with the Martin Mass — winner of a Gramophone Award for Record of the Year in 1998 — and other formidable competition. The Cambridge disc, moreover, is shorter than its rivals and could easily have accommodated another piece. As so often, it becomes a question of what companions one wants to the piece in which one is most interested: anyone keen to have this particular combination will be delighted with it. The accompanying notes are first class.