WORKS: Missa Veni sancte spiritus/O rex gloriose
PERFORMER: Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Oxford/ Stephen Darlington
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5578
Cardinal Wolsey – a flamboyant patron of the arts – founded Cardinal College, Oxford, in 1525, establishing a choir that was both larger and more accomplished than King Henry VIII’s own. Following Wolsey’s notorious fall from grace in 1529, Cardinal College was renamed Christ Church and the present-day Cathedral choristers pay tribute to its first master of music, Richard Pygott.
The elaborate melismatic writing in Pygott’s five-part Mass Veni sancte spiritus poses considerable challenges, which Darlington and his choir meet with persuasive style. The ear is constantly delighted by the fluid interplay of different vocal combinations, pierced through by ornate counterpoint for solo ensembles. George Humphreys’s pure-toned solo treble is an especially impressive feature here. Thus, the Christ Church choristers discover the subtle play of light and shade in the scoring that defines Pygott’s heartfelt response to the liturgy.
Beside lucrative posts at Magdalen College and the cathedrals at Chichester, Salisbury and Hereford, John Mason stood in for Taverner at Cardinal College in 1529. The Christ Church choir completes its absorbing insight into Wolsey’s musical patronage with a delicious account of Mason’s antiphon O rex gloriose, whose smooth, hypnotically interwoven lines alone would provide sufficient incentive to buy this disc. Nicholas Rast