Vaughan Williams; Hough

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams; Hough
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Vaughan Williams: Dona nobis pacem; Hough: Missa Mirabilis
PERFORMER: Christopher Maltman (baritone); Colorado Symphony Chorus; Colorado Symphony/Andrew Litton
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 68096

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Vaughan Williams’s Dona nobis pacem is a work that wastes no time cutting to the quick, and nor does this performance of it: in the opening Agnus Dei soprano Sarah Fox is immediately intense and focused, the Colorado Symphony coiled and ready to spring on the explosive tutti that rips forth from the softer textures.

‘Beat! beat! drums!’ highlights the cleanly articulated singing of the chorus, justly balanced by conductor Andrew Litton against the angular rap of brass and percussion in the accompaniment. Christopher Maltman shows poise and dignity in the highly charged material allotted to the baritone, while Litton’s marshalling of the abrupt gear-changes at the conclusion is deft and unobtrusively satisfying.

Stephen Hough’s Missa Mirabilis is more varied in tone, ranging from the facile sweetness of the Kyrie, through the chirpy punchiness of the Gloria, to the suddenly agitated and uncertain Credo, where the Latin text is subjected to deconstruction by a musical treatment in parts suggesting what Hough himself terms ‘defiant unbelief’. We’re back on firmer ground theologically in the fulsome Sanctus, although in the Agnus Dei elements of doubt and disquietude again break through the surface. If it’s difficult to get a settled view of what the piece is aiming to communicate, that’s not the fault of the performers, who are well prepared and deliver the music with skill and fervour.

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Terry Blain