WORKS: Resurrexit: Easter Sunday Mass from Westminster Cathedral
PERFORMER: Westminster Cathedral Choir/Martin Baker; Robert Quinney (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: HAVPCD 284
We are well accustomed to hearing the fine choir of Westminster Cathedral in discs made for the purpose of the music alone, but this is the first time that the wider public has been offered the chance to eavesdrop upon it, as it were, in the course of its day-to-day work, albeit on the most significant day in the church’s year.
A disc of the entire Easter Mass has particular significance for those of the faith, but non-Christians like myself can also enjoy its mesmerising theatrical appeal and the sense of mystery it invokes purely on its own terms. There are, of course, spoken and intoned readings and large chunks of plainsong, sung by men and boys either together or separately with a natural expressive flow.
Sometimes it’s unaccompanied, sometimes it’s accompanied on the organ by the saccharine harmonies with which it has been garnished in services since the 19th century. The sequence Victimae paschali laudes is, however, sung to what sounds like sturdily rhythmicised chant, with loud (improvised?) organ interventions. Meanwhile, from the polyphonic repertoire there’s the Gloria and Agnus Dei from Dvorák’s Mass in D and Peter Phillips’s vigorous double-choir Offertory motet Ecce vicit Leo.
Under the sure direction of master of music Martin Baker both works bring out the best of the choir – its positive attack and fine blend. Tournemire’s huge, celebratory Victimae paschali makes an almost too magnificent closing organ voluntary, and it’s played with accomplishment by Robert Quinney. The recording is excellent, so rich in atmosphere that one can almost smell the incense. Stephen Pettitt