Martin – Mass for Double Choir

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Kodaly,Martin,Poulenc
LABELS: BR Klassik
WORKS: Martin: Mass; Kodály: Missa Brevis; Poulenc: Litanies à la Vierge noire
PERFORMER: Bavarian Radio Chorus/ Peter Dijkstra; Max Hanft (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: BR Klassik 403571900500 (hybrid CD/SACD

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There is much stunning choral singing on this disc, beautifully blended tonally, precisely calibrated dynamically, and shaped with the measured skilfulness of a bespoke tailor. Odd, then, that the results are not always as emotionally involving as you might imagine.

Frank Martin’s Mass, for instance, comes perilously close to expressive anonymity in places, and it took close comparisons with James O’Donnell’s award-winning Hyperion recording to restore confidence in the music’s potency – the more spacious Westminster Cathedral acoustic creates a greater sense of atmosphere, and boy trebles place an extra expressive dimension at O’Donnell’s disposition. By comparison the Bavarians sound over-rehearsed, hugely polished but slightly lacking in spontaneity. Martin’s music shrinks a little in stature as a result.

There is some gorgeous high soprano work, pure and fearlessly ascending, in the Kyrie of Kodály’s Missa Brevis, reprised later at ‘Dona nobis pacem’. The ‘Crucifixus’ section of the Credo, meanwhile, has an affecting poise and security, as the music tiptoes progressively down the stave at decreasing dynamic levels – an effect far harder to achieve than might be immediately evident.

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This again speaks volumes for the technical facility of the singers, and indeed for conductor Peter Dijkstra’s deft harnessing of it, as does the impressive rendition of the short Poulenc masterpiece concluding the programme. The recordings are superbly engineered, and the sound is particularly immediate on the SACD surround layer. Terry Blain