Vaughan Williams; Bingham

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams; Bingham
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Vaughan Williams & Bingham
WORKS: Mass in G minor; O vos Omnes; Valiant for Truth; A Vision of Aeroplanes
PERFORMER: Westminster Cathedral Choir, Martin Baker, Robert Quinney
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67503
Vaughan Williams is said to have been pleased when a friend described him as ‘the Christian agnostic’. So it’s rather apt that his ambiguously mystical Mass in G minor should be paired with Judith Bingham’s Mass, which replaces the Credo – the central affirmation of Christian doctrine – with a dogma-free meditation on the presence of Christ in the breaking of bread. Apt, too, because, unlike many contemporary British composers, Bingham clearly isn’t ashamed to acknowledge her debt to Vaughan Williams. There are echoes of Messiaen as well in her Mass (especially in some of the more colourful modes she employs), but it’s Messiaen seen through English Romantic eyes – and not the worse for that. Bingham’s choral writing in particular is imaginative, rich and directly expressive. But Westminster Cathedral Choir’s singing too often strikes me as cool and deadpan: the expression feels undercharged, the colours muted.

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That feeling is enhanced by comparing their performance of the Mass in G minor with the Richard Hickox version on Chandos (reviewed August 2002). Hickox’s performance is alive on so many levels that beside it the Westminster Cathedral choristers tend to sound a bit monochrome, for all their undeniable technical refinement. It is good to have the Vaughan Williams rarities, though, especially the spectacular A Vision of Aeroplanes and the simpler but very telling Valiant-for-truth – the singing thankfully a degree or too more expressively warm in the latter. Stephen Johnson