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The Secret Mass: Works by Martin and Martinů

Danish National Vocal Ensemble/Marcus Creed (OUR Recordings)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
CD_6220671_Martinu_cmyk

Martin • Martinů
Martin: Mass for Double Choir; Songs of Ariel from Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’; Martinu ̊: 4 Marian Songs; Romance of the Dandelions
Danish National Vocal Ensemble/Marcus Creed
OUR Recordings 6.220671 (hybrid CD/ SACD) 64:13 mins

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Frank Martin turned reticence about the public exposure of his music into a fine art. His Mass for two choirs was composed in 1922, but did not see the light of day until 1963 and then only because of the forceful intervention of the German conductor Franz Brunnert. Why so coy? The Kyrie with its sinuous modal choral lines has immediate appeal. The Gloria shows a certain affinity with the double choir motets of Bach, but the result is individual and always engaging.

Composed nearly 30 years later, Martin’s atmospheric settings of familiar verse from Shakespeare’s The Tempest shares the post-Impressionist world of the Mass, but with a rather sharper edge. In both works, the Danish National Vocal Ensemble, directed by Marcus Creed, produces an excellently integrated sound, although they might have been bolder in defining climactic phrases in the longer movements. Both of the Martinů works recorded here have strong folk roots. While outwardly simple, the Four Songs for Mary, composed in 1934, go well beyond their initial, folk-song inspiration with rich harmonies and a clear blend of depth and humour. The Romance of the Dandelions belongs to a group of cantatas composed toward the end of his life and rich in nostalgia for his youth in the Bohemian-Moravian highlands. The textures are more experimental, with choral humming and an extensive solo for soprano, beautifully sung here. The choir’s Czech declamation could be more pointed, but overall the singers deliver performances that capture the restrained radiance of these lovely works.

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Jan Smaczny