COMPOSERS: Dering,Howells,JÊHarvey,Langlais etc,Leighton,Stanford,Tippett,Vaughan Williams
ALBUM TITLE: The feast of St Michael and all angels at Westminster Abbey
WORKS: Choral works by Dering, Leighton, Stanford, Vaughan Williams, Tippett, J Harvey, Howells, Langlais etc
PERFORMER: Choir of Westminster Abbey/James O’Donnell; Robert Quinney (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67643
This programme, which presents music you might hear at the Abbey at Michaelmas, consists mainly of
20th-century British music. The two exceptions are, I have to say, the most engaging works here.
Dering’s motet Factum est Silentium, penned in 1618 whilst he was employed by a community of English nuns in Brussels, describes the silence in heaven when the Archangel Michael fought the dragon personifying evil. It creates drama with a light musical touch. Langlais’s Messe solenelle, woven around characteristically edgy writing for organ, trawls almost the whole history of church music, through modal chants, fugal passages and Romantic and Modern outbursts that evoke awe and ardent faith.
Beside these, the other pieces here seem rather pale. Vaughan Williams’s Te Deum has moments of real beauty, whilst passages of Howell’s Sequence, the three Tippett pieces, and Jonathan Harvey’s Langlais/Messiaen-influenced Laus Deo do stir the blood, if not the soul. Even so, accepting that much of this music was designed to be used functionally, it is disappointing that reverence triumphs over inspiration and a sense of wonder for a feastday which celebrates Michael’s crucial spiritual role. Maybe ‘that old Serpent’ stopped my ears. Barry Witherden