WORKS: Mass for Double Choir; Passacaille for organ. Requiem; De profundis
PERFORMER: Choir of Westminster Cathedral/ James O’Donnell (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67017
That most European-minded of Britain’s cathedral choirs here offers a brace of Masses dating from 1922. The setting by Frank Martin (1890-1974) languished unperformed until 1963 – because the composer felt it to be such a deeply personal expression of his Christian faith as to render public performance redundant if not actually repugnant. Martin’s style absorbs the European polyphonic tradition into a distinctively rich mode of ecstatic expressionism which seems like a less extreme answer to the problem Schoenberg faced after the explosive Romantic finality of Gurrelieder. A later answer came in the form of the 1944 Passacaille for organ, a conscious homage to his ultimate musical master, JS Bach; James O’Donnell’s poised, flowing performance exploits to the full the wide-ranging harmonic possibilities of Martin’s passacaglia theme which uses 11 of the 12 notes in the chromatic scale. The Requiem of Ildebrando Pizzetti (1880-1968) wears its historical antecedents more overtly on its
sleeve, with aspects of plainchant, Renaissance polyphony and Venetian multiple choruses being called into service in a quite extraordinarily diverse setting of the Requiem.
Stark melodies and two-part textures suddenly blossom into glowingly radiant complex harmonies. In this recording, Westminster Cathedral Choir, under O’Donnell, offers penetrating clarity, superb tonal accuracy and infinitely controllable dynamic ranges. Hyperion’s engineers have captured the singing, and the organ too, in a recording of arresting immediacy and musical richness. Graeme Kay