The Feast of St Peter the Apostle at Westminster Abbey

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Byrd,Crotch,Durufle,Ley,Palestrina,Radcliffe,Stanford,Walton and JS Bach tr. Dupré
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Sacred choral works by Duruflé, Radcliffe, Ley, Stanford, Byrd, Palestrina, Crotch, Walton and JS Bach tr. Dupré
PERFORMER: Choir of Westminster Abbey/James O’Donnell; Robert Quinney (organ)


This disc, the music of a Westminster Abbey service for its patronal feast, delivers a polished performance of an often tedious programme.

Anglican believers may welcome this armchair experience of the Abbey’s musical offerings, but the quality works – William Walton’s anthem The Twelve, William Byrd’s Mass tor five voices, Palestrina’s motet Tu es Petrus, the Bach Sinfonia transcribed for organ – are submerged by pedestrian post-1800 Matins and Evensong settings.

The musicians of Westminster Abbey are in top form. Crisp phrasing, firm control of line and luminous colours create many fine moments, notably in the Palestrina and in Byrd’s ‘Gloria’. Under organist Robert Quinn, the transcribed Bach Sinfonia sweeps along to a heady climax.

The assurance with which trebles Raphael Taylor-Davies and William Rowland steer us from joy to despair in Walton’s The Twelve belies their youth. Byrd’s Mass remains impersonal, due partly to cavernous acoustic of Westminster Abbey, partly to the large performing forces, and partly to James O’Donnell’s direction, which can be routine.


No conductor, however, could leaven the ponderousness of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford; the CD sleeve notes argue for the ‘Brahmsian’ quality of his work, but Stanford’s relentless homophony, pat phrasing and dull melodies show this claim to be misleading. Music by Radcliffe, Ley and Crotch broaden the sterile terrain. Spare yourself the journey. Berta Joncus