Maxwell Davies: Mass; Missa parvula; Veni Sancte Spiritus; Dum complerentur

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COMPOSERS: Maxwell Davies
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Mass; Missa parvula; Veni Sancte Spiritus; Dum complerentur
PERFORMER: Westminster Cathedral Choir/Martin Baker; Robert Quinney, Robert Houssart (organ)
In the Sixties, Peter Maxwell Davies produced a significant quantity of choral music that was liturgical in its inspiration if not in its function. But it was more than 30 years later that he composed his first works specifically intended to be part of a liturgy, and then, typically, he produced two settings of the ordinary of the Mass in quick succession. Both were intended for Westminster Cathedral: the Mass dates from 2002 and is scored for full choir and two organs, while the Missa parvula, written for children’s voices and organ, was first performed in March last year. Plainchant naturally provides the source material for both works, as it has for so much of Maxwell Davies’s output, instrumental as well as vocal, throughout his career. The stripped-down sonorities of the Missa parvula, with its unison vocal line threaded through clouds of organ chords, have a Gregorian austerity and a chaste coolness which the Westminster Cathedral performance catches authentically. The Mass is far grander, more harmonically complex and rhetorical; the climaxes are imposing and the organ parts sometimes explode into virtuoso life, though the anchoring plainsong is never far from the surface. The other pieces, all recent, too, are much slighter and all elegantly shaped, never over-dramatised, by Martin Baker and his choir. Andrew Clements