Mass in G minor; Te Deum in G; O vos omnes; Antiphon; Rhosymedre; O Taste and See; Prayer to the Father of Heaven; O Clap Your Hands; Lord, Thou has Been our Refuge
Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge/Andrew Nethsingha; Joseph Wicks (organ)
Signum Classics SIGCD541 67:32 mins
Some performances grip you from the outset, and this St John’s College recording of Vaughan Williams’s Mass in G minor is one of them. The Kyrie’s rapt inwardness is built on the outstandingly assured vocalism of the singers at restrained dynamic levels, but also on conductor Andrew Nethsingha’s pleasingly fluid moulding of the undulating motifs Vaughan Williams uses to knit the music together. The antiphonal writing for double choir in the Gloria – clearly separated left and right by Signum’s engineering – has plenty of punch, but with just 33 singers participating it never becomes blowsy or over-inflated. At ‘Et incarnatus est’, the soloists are placed at the far end of the College’s chapel, creating a sense of distant events speaking across the centuries.
In the Agnus Dei, the blending of voices achieved by Nethsingha is exquisite without seeming at all contrived or precious. It sets the seal on a highly affecting reading of the Mass: I can’t think of another recording where the piece’s compassion and sense of gentle spirituality are more tellingly registered. Among the eight shorter works a glowing, uplifting account of the Te Deum in G, which was written in 1928 for the Archbishop of Canterbury’s enthronement, particularly catches the attention. So too does the elated tutti outburst on ‘Jerusalem’ at the conclusion of O vos omnes, where the boy trebles cut through with gleaming brilliancy. There are fine recordings of all these pieces in the catalogue already. But as a single-disc anthology of Vaughan Williams’s choral music this new St John’s College CD is formidably attractive.