WORKS: Missa Jesu Christe,Missa Videte manus meas
PERFORMER: Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford/Stephen Darlington
CATALOGUE NO: MET CD 1030-31
The inclusion in the Heather-Forrest partbooks of these Masses by Thomas Ashwell and Hugh Aston strongly suggests that they were originally sung at Christ Church. So it is fitting that Stephen Darlington’s Oxford choristers should record these two pieces in the building for which they were intended.
By their nature, collegiate choirs regularly change their personnel, and the trebles are not as firmly focused as their colleagues on Nimbus’s release of Pygott’s Veni sancte spiritus Mass. However, notwithstanding occasional blurring in the more fervent moments, Darlington’s singers here give a finely balanced account of Ashwell’s Missa Jesu Christe with bright recording underlining the composer’s clear delineation of text and vocal arrangement.
Like Ashwell’s Mass, Aston’s Missa Videte manus meas is scored for six voices. But its increased polyphonic richness (with different vocal groupings neatly overlapping) more fully exploits the developmental potential of the composition’s cyclic design. Contrast, for example, the wave upon wave of imitative melismas in Aston’s setting of the Credo with Ashwell’s more direct expression of the same passage.
Christ Church Choir’s controlled virtuosity throughout this repertoire’s long-breathed melodic lines makes a deep impression, bringing vividly to life striking Mass settings by two all-but-forgotten Tudor masters. Nicholas Rast