Rubbra: Magnificat & Nunc dimittis; Missa cantuariensis; Missa in honorem Sancti Dominici

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WORKS: Magnificat & Nunc dimittis; Missa cantuariensis; Missa in honorem Sancti Dominici
PERFORMER: Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge/Christopher Robinson; Robert Houssart (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.555255
This disc makes a stronger case for Rubbra than anything else I’ve heard – stronger even than any of Chandos’s fine recordings of the 11 symphonies. Those who find that they can respect Rubbra the symphonist without warming to him (or who are simply put off by his unglamorous orchestral writing) may well find his religious choral music more compelling. There’s the same quality of vision, but expressed with a concentration and simplicity which often mask subtle craftsmanship. Outstanding here are the Missa in honorem Sancti Dominici (Mass in honour of St Dominic) and the Nine Tenebrae Responses – both, significantly, written after Rubbra’s mid-life conversion to Roman Catholicism. The Mass glances towards the great Tudor church composers Rubbra admired so much, but without nostalgia or self-conscious archaism – even Vaughan Williams’s much better-known Mass in G minor can sound mannered after this. In the Tenebrae settings (meditations on Christ’s sufferings for Maundy Thursday), Rubbra places his music at the service of the words in a way which movingly underlines both their human and mystical significance – and yet again it’s done with such telling economy. The St John’s choristers are excellent, and they sound as though they believe in every note. Recordings too could hardly be bettered – spacious, bright and clear. Stephen Johnson