Sunday, 20 September 2015

Sir David Willcocks interviewed on Desert Island Discs in 1998

The mp3 of the broadcast from the BBC archives is available by clicking here. Musical choices listed here. A fascinating insight into the remarkable conductor who died three days ago.

And here Sir David, Sir Philip Ledger and Stephen Cleobury regale us with stories about their respective tenures as Director of Music at King's.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Sir David Willcocks, Requiescat in pace

The esteemed choral conductor Sir David Willcocks, erstwhile organ scholar and Director of Music at King's College, Cambridge, has died aged 95. Many will remember him for his prolific recordings with the Choir of King's College, many of which were remarkably forward thinking for their day, though not necessarily in line with the emerging "historically informed performance" movement. One of my treasured discs is Sir David conducting the Haydn Nelsonmesse - a scaled down London Symphony Orchestra and the King's College Choir in top form make that recording as fresh today as when it was recorded in July 1962. Many of Sir David's arrangements of and descants for Christmas carols continue to be widely used. See a full obituary here, which is full of interesting details of which I had not been aware until now - for instance, he was a decorated war hero, keen surfer and conducted the first British performance of Duruflé's Requiem. His successor at King's, Sir Philip Ledger, died in 2012 aged 74.

Sir David Willcocks, b.1919, d. 2015

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Sistine Chapel Choir CD soon to be released on the august Deutsche Grammophon label

The Sistine Chapel Choir has recorded a studio CD (actually recorded in the Sistine Chapel but not a live performance). It is entitled Cantate Domino and will be released on the Deutsche Grammophon label - one of the best known classical music labels which is experiencing somewhat of a revival of late.

I have only briefly listened to the extracts available on the label's website through some rather mediocre speakers, but even then I must say the sound of the choir appears to be remarkably polished, while retaining an Italian style. I will obviously have to have a much closer listen when the CD is released on 25 September 2015, but the signs are promising. Perhaps best of all is the repertoire - apart from plainsong and Palestrina, we have Victoria, Allegri, Lassus and Anerio.

Congratulations to the Choir and its Director, Monsignor Palombella!

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).