Vaughan Williams: Mass in G minor; O Taste and See; The Christian Year

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COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
WORKS: Mass in G minor; O Taste and See; The Christian Year
PERFORMER: Elora Festival Singers/Noel Edison; Thomas Fitches (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554826
So much depends on the performance. Sung with anything less than complete conviction and musical authority, Vaughan Williams’s Mass in G minor can sound like an uneasy mix of pastiche Tudor church music and folksy primitivism. The most convincing performance I’ve heard on disc is that of the Corydon Singers on Hyperion. Conductor Matthew Best’s feeling for the music’s long, almost improvisatory lines brings a sense of purpose that soon banishes doubts about style. There’s an intensity, too, which seems to come from within the notes rather than being simply applied to them. The Elora Festival Singers is a well-balanced, technically solid ensemble, and there are some nice moments in its performance – the hushed, sonorous chords which open the Gloria for instance – but the music never takes wing for very long. There’s also something rather impersonal about it. Vaughan Williams’s attitude to religion was complicated – a friend described him as ‘the Christian Agnostic’. In the Corydon version there are hints of doubt among the devotion; here nothing either disturbs the surface or glows through it. From this performance you might never guess that there was anything more to the Mass in G minor than the spirit of suburban neo-Gothic architecture embodied in music. The shorter pieces are as pleasingly recorded as the Mass, but again, don’t expect revelations. Stephen Johnson