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.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher OP appointed as member of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ...

... along with the Archbishop of Dijon Roland Minnerath. Read the announcement here. There are around 23 members of the CDF. Currently its Prefect is German Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller.

Archbishop Fisher, far left, in attendance at the Divine Liturgy Commemorating the Centenary of the Armenian Genocide St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, 2 May 2015

Cardinal Pell was a member of the CDF from 1990 to 2000 (prior to his time as Archbishop of Sydney - His Eminence was ordained auxiliary bishop of Melbourne in 1988 and appointed Archbishop of the same in 1996 - he moved to Sydney in 2001). His Eminence was the first Australian to be appointed as a member the CDF (see Livingstone, George Pell, p 202), and I am not aware of any others until this latest appointment (although some may have been delegates, advisers, etc). 

What a singular honour for His Grace - felicitations.  

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The London Oratory School &c.

Here is a concise description of the London Oratory School in Fulham, a few miles from the London Oratory with which it continues to have close ties.

"The Oratory School
The School was founded in 1863, and is located in Fulham, London SW6. It offers education to boys aged 7 to 18, and girls between the ages of 16 and 18. It is part of the Catholic Church with a philosophy and liturgical tradition which dates back to 16th Century Rome [ed - assuming the writer means the School, not the Catholic Church, do they celebrate the Mass of the Ages at the School?], and specifically to the Patron Saint of the School, St Philip Neri. St Philip Neri, an Italian priest who devoted his energies to the teaching of young men, formed an influential movement in the Catholic Church called the Congregation of the Oratory. St Philip Neri also gave his name to the London Oratory Church; the School and Oratory Church maintain close links with one another, sharing strong liturgical traditions. When the School was founded, its mission was to offer Catholic education for the benefit of Catholic children from all over London; that continues to be one of its key objectives today. Indeed, the pupils are drawn from over 300 parishes and primary schools, and 40 local education authority areas in and around London; it is reported that fifty three languages are spoken in the School, and that over 70% of its pupils travel more than 5kms to attend the School. 
Religious worship plays a substantial part in school life; the admissions process of the School has, thus far, ensured that its pupils are fully committed and practising members of the Catholic Church. In pursuing the objectives of Cardinal John Newman (who introduced the Oratorians to England in the nineteenth century), the strong religious ethos, in the Canonical tradition, is combined with academic strength. The School’s Ofsted and other independent inspection reports describe the school as “outstanding”. 
The School espouses two distinct and fundamental objectives: 
i) To serve the Catholic community across the whole of the London area (referred to in the documents as its “pan-London mission”); and 
ii) To preserve and enhance strong Catholic religious and academic teaching in the spiritual and musical traditions of the oratories of St Philip Neri. 
The School is, unsurprisingly, very popular; the places (usually approximately 160 places for admission in Year 7) are, each year, vastly over-subscribed (typically, there are more than 800 applicants). The School is concerned to minimise the extent of random selection of its pupils while promoting its strong Catholic ethos."  
This was taken from a judgment that was handed down on Friday in the High Court of Justice of England & Wales (for Australian readers not familiar with the English legal system, the High Court is the superior court of record of first instance in civil cases - like a State Supreme Court, or the Federal Court). Read the judgment here.

The Oratory School has an excellent liturgical choir - the Schola Cantorum directed by Charles Cole. Recently they visited various churches in Spain where they sang pieces from El Siglo de Oro by composers such as Victoria, Guerrero and Vivanco. Read about the tour here, and background here.

Guerrero and Victoria, among others, wrote some of the finest and most enduring sacred polyphony, and it is a delight to know that it is being sung in the context for which it was composed (and an even greater delight when one actually experiences it being sung in such a context), as well as in the context of concerts.

First, a video of the Schola Cantorum, apparently filmed on their recent Spanish trip. It's just a short extract, from the Croce motet In spiritu humilitatis I believe:

And here is a stunning piece from Guerrero, the motet Maria Magdalene et altera Maria: