ALBUM TITLE: Bax, Finzi, Ireland
WORKS: Bax: This wordless joie, I Sing of a Maiden; Finzi: Lo, the full, final sacrifice; Ireland:Te Deum, Greater Love
PERFORMER: The Choir of Westminster Abbey/James O’Donnell; Daniel Cook (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 68167
Finzi’s Lo, the full, final sacrifice is a work that can easily sprawl and seem shapeless, but not in this excellent new recording by James O’Donnell and his Westminster Abbey forces. It’s a performance where all the individual components in this 15-minute-long anthem seem justly weighed and articulated, from the introspective organ prelude (sensitively shaped by Daniel Cook), through the rising elation signalled at ‘Rise, Royal Sion!’ to the gentle sensuality of the closing eight-part ‘Amen’. O’Donnell knits the various episodes together with unobtrusive surety, and catches the work’s devotional atmosphere compellingly.
The dark, slinking chromaticism of Bax’s This worldes joie also makes a strong impression, as do the more extroverted sections of John Ireland’s setting Greater love hath no man, though here again the tender entreaty of the coda is a particularly affecting moment.
Ireland’s Ex ore innocentium brings the boy choristers into the spotlight, and they grasp their moment with a confident display of crystalline tonal quality, an informed awareness of textual meaning, and the ability to vary dynamics convincingly. Daniel Livermore’s fine solo also deserves mention, as do the six singers who take solos in other pieces.
Occasionally – in Finzi’s Magnificat, for instance – the swirling power of the Westminster Abbey organ threatens to overface the lower voices, though the trebles continue to cut through with impressive clarity. Overall, though, the engineering captures the grand ambience of the Abbey in an evocative fashion. This is a richly enjoyable recital, with full texts and documentation included.