WORKS: Trois oraisons; Messe solennelle
PERFORMER: Helen Meyerhoff (soprano), Thomas Kemp (violin), Simon Nieminski (organ); St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral Choir, Edinburgh/Matthew Owens (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: HAVPCD 254
You tend to think organ with these composers, but as long-time post-holders at major Paris churches they had plenty of opportunity to write for voices. Last year the choir of what was Vierne’s cathedral, Notre Dame, took his Mass to St Paul’s in London, but there aren’t many others left in France and it’s down to the more cosmopolitan of their British colleagues to keep this stirring repertoire current.
The Edinburgh singers have the precision of English choirs and more warmth of tone in two complementary styles: Vierne is in the Gounod line, Langlais more modal and adventurous, especially in the Oraisons. Using solo soprano, violin and organ, they explore Arabic-sounding melodic lines before turning quasi-Baroque. Langlais’s Mass maintains the pungent harmony in a setting that, unexpectedly, increases in grandeur as it goes on.
But the most original music is Vierne’s Les angélus, again for solo soprano (Helen Meyerhoff, full-toned and rather heavily vibrant) who runs a persuasive melodic course against subtle bell evocations from the organ. The biggest work, the Vierne Mass, has a way of giving its strongest ideas to recurring organ phrases, which punctuate the choral setting in several of the movements and give the textures an enlivening variety towards a lightening of tone at ‘Dona nobis pacem’ and a beautifully wishful wind-down. Robert Maycock