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Puer Natus Est
Christmas Day Mass from Buckfast Abbey

Matthew Searles (organ)
Choir of Buckfast Abbey/Philip Arkwright
rec. 31 January – 2 February 2020, Buckfast Abbey, Devon, UK
AD FONTES AF005 [68:05]

This comes a little late for the Christmas which we have all just celebrated, but since it was recorded just under a year ago, perhaps we can be forgiven; the music relates to Christmas but, rather like the oft-advertised dog, it is not just for Christmas.

Of course, both the Mass itself and much of the music sung at this particular recorded Mass, are ancient and timeless, and the wonderfully flowing plainchant, which pervades this sumptuously presented disc, seems to take us back into the mists of time. The Buckfast Abbey choir – 10 sopranos, five countertenors, four tenors and five basses – have Gregorian chant coursing through their veins, and the ease and naturalness of delivery is a joy to behold.

Two well-known harmonisations and descants by David Willcocks – Unto us is Born a Son and Of the Father’s Heart Begotten - bring a touch of Christmas musical magic, but the real gem in this programme is George Malcolm’s Missa ad Pręsepe, composed in 1959 and designed to evoke, as Malcolm himself put it, “The angels and shepherds are singing, at the Crib”. The Kyrie opens with a Christmassy tinge, reminiscent of “The Shepherd’ Farewell” from Berlioz’s L’Enfance du Christ, and the graceful, poised Gloria, oozes the deep mystery of the Nativity. The Sanctus is a charming musette, the Benedictus has an awe-struck feel to it, while the Agnus Dei moves into more reflective territory. All of this is performed with consummate grace by this excellent choir; Philip Arkwright has achieved a remarkable simplicity and directness of approach, which is simply a delight to hear.

Interspersed between the plainchant and the liturgy of the Mass are psalms, hymns, anthems and motets which, in their various ways, reflect the repertoire of the Roman Catholic church in Britain. Philip Duffy’s business-like Responsorial Psalm (no,97) moves by briskly with a glorious outburst from the organ’s solo reeds, while Richard Runciman Terry, whom many might consider the father of the Roman Catholic musical revival in England, is represented by his charming and oft-heard Myn Lyking. However, it has to be said that his is an unusually affectionate and effective performance, beautifully shaped and elegantly delivered by Arkwright and his Buckfast singers.

The Ruffati organ gets a good workout throughout the programme, with Matthew Searles an ever-sensitive and responsive accompanist. We hear it in all its glories, however, in a celebratory improvisation at the start and a glittering postlude composed by George Baker (described in the booklet as an “American composer and dermatologist”) which brings this warmly atmospheric disc to a close.

Marc Rochester

Gregorian Chant
Adeste fidelis [6:02]
Puer natus est [3:29]
Dies Sanctificatus [2:34]
Viderunt Omnes [7:02]
Puer Natus in Bethlehem [7:30]
George MALCOLM (1917-1977)
Missa ad Pręsepe [14:08]
Philip DUFFY (b.1943)
Responsorial Psalm 97 [2:36]
Richard Runciman TERRY (1865-1938)
Myn Lyking [3:28]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
In the Bleak Mid-Winter [4:17]
Tomįs Luis de VICTORIA (1548-1611)
O Magnum Mysterium [3:53]
David WILLCOCKS (1919-2015)
Unto us is born a Son [2:59]
Of the Father’s Heart Begotten [4:57]
George BAKER (b.1951)
Toccata-Gigue on the Sussex Carol [5:10]

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