Poulenc: Mass in G; Kodály: Missa Brevis; Janácek: Otcenáš
Joseph Wicks, Glen Dempsey (organ); Anne Denholm (harp); Choir of St John’s College Cambridge/Andrew Nethsingha
Signum Classics SIGCD 489
Poulenc’s delightful and often moving Mass in G sprang from a mid-life reconversion to the faith of his youth. The prevalent mood is one of celebration which St John’s Choir captures admirably; there is also a lively engagement with the contrasts which make the Gloria so appealing. Poulenc’s tendency to pair phrases can, in the wrong hands, lead to a slightly monotonous effect, but with careful shading, as is the case here with Andrew Nethsingha, the results add significantly to the music’s sense of direction.
Kodály’s Missa Brevis was composed in extremis as Soviet troops attacked Nazi-occupied Budapest. Profound and sincere, the setting is a work of hope and passionate belief in his native land. While at times the work is sombre, it also communicates infectious joy, excellently captured here, in the Gloria and the latter parts of the Credo, and a strong sense of defiant affirmation in the face of adversity in the organ postlude.
Janáček’s Otčenáš (Our Father) certainly doesn’t belong to the liturgical world of the two masses; it was written to accompany a series of tableaux vivants, a popular theatrical entertainment among the Czechs, based on paintings of Russian peasants at prayer prompted by lines from the Lord’s Prayer, staged in the Brno theatre in 1901 as a fundraiser for a women’s refuge. The choir captures the other-worldly atmosphere of the opening and mostly navigates the Czech with conviction.
If at times the choral sound is not ideally integrated, as a whole these well-recorded performances are certainly recommendable.