WORKS: Missa Ecce ego Joannes; Missa Pater noster; motets
PERFORMER: Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Oxford/Stephen Darlington
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5650
Christ Church has a highly polished choir with a remarkable ability to sustain the long time-scale of two complete Masses, framed by two motets and a setting of the Lord’s Prayer. Such unaccompanied singing can’t easily be edited if pitch wanders and I sense that long passages here, if not complete movements, were created in a single ‘take’. Perhaps, though, that also explains a certain caution in the performance, the counterpoint a plaiting of equal lines rather than interweaving and overlapping arches of sound. Little happens to shape a phrase, to create structure from the rise and fall of dynamics or of the intensity of vocal sonority. At appropriate moments, forces are reduced – a solo ensemble for the middle section of each Kyrie and Benedictus – but this apart, the choir rarely rises above a workmanlike singing of the notes at a generally constant tempo. Recorded sound recreates the distant perspective of nave rather than chancel, evocative though not immediate.
Palestrina works his magic notably in the ambivalent tonality of the Missa Pater noster, oscillating between C major and D minor, while the Missa Ecce ego Joannes is strikingly direct in its projection of the words, in chordal passages and repetitions. George Pratt