Monday, 10 August 2015

Sunday Mass at the London Oratory

Despite relatively frequent visits to London I still had not managed to attend a Sunday Solemn Sung Latin (novus ordo) Mass at the Oratory for one reason or another. This Sunday however provided the perfect opportunity, as the Oratory choir continues to sing while many others are in recess. The ordinary was the Byrd four part Mass, with almost the full chant propers (the offertory was a setting of Nigra Sum by Lhéritier - a setting I had not heard before) and the communion motet was the Byrd Ave Verum. Credo III was sung alternatim, with the choir parts sung by the countertenors.

Below is a short video of part of the Byrd Agnus Dei - for some reason I cannot edit the video on my current laptop so please excuse the lack of polish. The music starts a little way in and ends rather abruptly.

The Oratory's monthly music list may be perused here.

Mass was followed by a light luncheon taken in the gardens of the less Papist Holy Trinity Brompton (the former stomping ground of the current Archbishop of Canterbury).


The Oratory on what was a splendidly sunny day

Saturday, 25 July 2015

"I Love Sydney": Pallium Investiture Mass in Sydney

At what may well have been the first orchestral Mass at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney for over half a decade, the Archbishop of Sydney was "invested" with his pallium on the Feast of St James the Greater, a month after he received it from Pope Francis at St Peter's Basilica on the feast of Saints Peter & Paul. The "investor" was the new Apostolic Nuncio to Australia, Archbishop Adolfo Tito Yllana.

For the ordinary, Mozart's Missa Solemnis in C major K.337, a chamber orchestra was employed, and in a marked departure from the Cathedral norm a latter-day lutenist sang and self-accompanied the responsorial Psalm.

It was great to see the cathedral packed with the faithful joining together to witness the investiture and pray for their Archbishop. Provided these new "Pallium Investiture" Masses, as they occur from time to time across the world, are not 'ticketed' (which I state again is a repugnant practice), then this new regime implemented by Pope Francis may indeed "enable more parishioners in the local dioceses to participate in an important moment in the life and history of their diocese and Province". Other Archdioceses would do well to model their "Pallium Investiture" Masses on today's Mass in Sydney.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Singing the Lord's Prayer in English: Rimsky-Korsakov adaption

I have been searching for a decent recording of the English arrangement of Rimsky-Korsakov's setting of the Lord's Prayer. My understanding is that it was first adapted to French (possibly by Père Gelineau) and later into English by then Precentor of Westminster Cathedral, one Father Higgins.

And then two excellent versions present themselves in quick succession. The first, fittingly, comes from Westminster Cathedral itself, during Vespers recorded for the BBC in 2014. The second comes from Winchester Cathedral, during the Easter Sunday Service in 2010 (only recently making its way onto YouTube). The Winchester version differs in two respects: the first syllable of the word "against" is sung on a different note, and the doxology ("for Thine is the kingdom" &c.) immediately follows the Lord's Prayer (as is customary in the C of E) and is set to the same tone.



Whilst I am greatly enamoured of this English setting, the first preference for a sung setting at a (Latin Rite) Mass should always be the normative Latin version. Next in order should be one of the other settings from the Roman Missal: the Mozarabic or Solemn Anaphora tone (Latin or English), or another approved vernacular version. For the English speaking world, the Missal contains an excellent adaption of the normative Latin tone, or in the US there is a setting by Robert Snow. In Australia, an adaption of the normative Latin tone by Rev. Dr. Percy Jones dating back several decades continues to be used, with the approval of the Bishops' Conference (although unlike the US situation, this Australian setting never made its way into the Roman Missal). The Australian version can be downloaded here, typesetting and organ accompaniment by Dr. Geoffrey Cox.

I like the idea of the Rimsky-Korsakov setting being used at Vespers, where Vespers is not in Latin. I am a little intrigued, however, that an English setting is used for Vespers at Westminster, given that the Pater Noster is common place there. Still, we otherwise wouldn't have the first recording above!

While I am on the topic of the Lord's Prayer, I should add that while the Pater Noster is included in the English version of the Roman Missal, Third Typcial Edition, its Latin introduction (Praeceptis salutaribus moniti &c.) is not. In my view, the Latin introduction should always be used if the Pater Noster will follow, if for no other reason than to indicate to the people that it is the Latin version that will be sung/said. Unfortunately, the whole of the Order of Mass in Latin, while an appendix in the 1974 version of the English Roman Missal, was actually omitted from the most recent version which is a pity because very few versions of the Latin Missale Romanum are floating around the parishes.

I hope in coming days to opine on Cardinal Robert Sarah's recent editorial in L'Osservatore Romano regarding the Mass, and also on the tone to be used at the Gospel (I have finally discovered a source for the parochial version used in Sydney, but am still perplexed as to why it remains in use - I will explain, based on my research to date, why this is).

Monday, 8 June 2015

Sackbuts & Cornett for Corpus Christi in Sydney

Yesterday three sackbuttists and a cornettist augmented the Gentlemen of the Cathedral Choir for the Solemn Sung Mass at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, giving the polyphony (Palestrina's remarkable Missa O Sacrum Convivium and Victoria's Lauda Sion) a dulcet brass undercurrent.

Photos are care of the Cathedral staff.

Westminster Cathedral recently did the same for Midnight Mass (the ordinary was Palestrina's Missa Hodie Christus Natus Est).

The Palestrina Missa O Sacrum Convivium is one of the finest in the canon - I fell in love with it after hearing the recording by the Choir of Christ Church Oxford made when the choir was on top form (see if you can track it down on Amazon either as a single CD or as I did as part of the choir's collected volumes under the title "European Choral Music"). Here is a taste, care of YouTube.

Splendid music, with an unexpected brass embellishment, followed by a successful Corpus Christi procession (which for the first time in many years took place under brilliant blue skies).

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The Augsburger Domsingknaben sings Haydn's Nikolaimesse

The orchestra is the Residenz-Kammerorchester, München conducted by Reinhard Kammler.

From the YouTube entry:
"The tradition of choral music at St. Mary's Cathedral in Augsburg goes back to the 15th century, the Domsingknaben being mentioned as the Cathedral's Boy Choir for the first time in a document in the year 1439. Referring to the Cathedral's patron saint, the young boys call themselves "Marianer". The tradition of Domsingknaben was then continued until the year 1865. In 1976 Bishop Dr. Josef Stimpfle reinstated the Augsburger Domsingknaben within the diocese in their present form, affiliating them to the Diocesean School Institute for administrative purposes. 
Returning to their roots, the Augsburg Domsingknaben attach particular significance to cultivating the Gregorian choral and old classic polyphonic music. The choir music of early Viennase Classic as well as the vocal music of Johann Sebastian Bach also belong to the regular repertoire of the Augsburger Domsingknaben. 
The 'Missa Sancti Nicolai', written in 1772, after a decade's service at the court of Count Nicholas of Esterhazy, is a work full of pastoral charm and serene piety. Intended as a surprise gift of gratitude on the occasion of the Count's Saint's name day, first performed in the chapel of princely residence."

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Bach Mass in B minor - a comparison of two live perfomances

This video of a recent performance (early April 2015) of the Bach Mass in B minor by the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner piqued my interest. It comes from Paris.

Having listened to it, though, I was underwhelmed and oddly unmoved by the experience (on the whole). I immediately re-watched this 2012 performance by Capella Amsterdam and Il Gardellino conducted by Daniel Reuss (the subject of an earlier blog post) to make sure I wasn't coming down with some sort of illness that was dulling my appreciation of Bach. Happily, no such ailment afflicts me. The 2012 performance, yet again, proved to be a compelling and joy-eliciting one. (I also listened to a few more Gardiner performances - happily, they continue to provide me with much pleasure).

For all its overt drama and bombast, the ultimate effect of the latest Gardiner performance is oddly unsatisfying. I like to use the analogy of "destructive interference" - where two waves interact to produce a wave with a smaller peak than the two individual waves had. That's what I felt was happening at key moments in the Gardiner video. By contrast, the Dutch performance's subtler, more refined approach translates into a more satisfying whole where the music is, to my ear, more naturally conveyed (and from start to finish, you get the feeling that everything is, in the moment, "right").

Some movements in the Gardiner performance are just mystifyingly fast - the Cum Sancto Spiritu for instance. I have collected or otherwise listened to many dozens of recordings of the B minor Mass over the years, and I do favour the brisker paces usually associated with "Historically Informed Performances", but I have never heard one attempting to complete that movement in 3:20 (3:50 is about standard for "HIP" recordings and is itself considered quite brisk). I am amazed that the musicians managed to keep that one on the rails (just). They consistently show great commitment and skill with respect to the desired interpretation (and are quite deserving of their excellent reputation). Another example is the Et expecto taken at breakneck speed, after a deliberately ponderous middle section of the Confiteor (some might say this was an abundant use of artistic licence, others contrived). I will confess to a moment of excitement just near the end of the Et expecto when Gardiner was going for the earth-shattering effect - almost a fitting way to end the Credo.

The one exception - and it's a major exception - in the Gardiner performance is the Sanctus which is an utterly superb reading of this movement (though I'm not sure the delay between the Sanctus and the first Hosanna so that the choir could "part" was entirely necessary). I am very glad of this - the Sanctus is one of my favourite parts of the B minor Mass, but it rarely gets such a fitting performance.

For me, then, Dutch performance is very close to a 10/10 (notwithstanding some minor infelicities, to be expected in a live performance), whereas the Gardiner is more of a 6-7/10. A shame, because other recent Gardiner performances of Bach have been exceptionally good, and with some minor amendments (mainly in the interpretation department) the Gardiner ensemble could certainly achieve that 10/10 performance. I will continue to return to the Reuss performance to hear the the entire work. To Gardiner's I will return only to dip into some of the more exciting parts from time to time.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Te Deum by F.J. Haydn's younger brother J.M. Haydn

In the key of C major, and beautifully sung by the Tölzer Knabenchor, accompanied by Convivium Musicum München, directed by Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden.