Monday, 26 August 2013

Choral music of the modern Dutch school

The twentieth century has - perhaps surprisingly - produced numerous choral settings of the Mass (in Latin), in part thanks to the not inconsiderable efforts of Westminster Cathedral in commissioning new works for liturgical use.  Less surprisingly, the bulk these settings were composed after Pope Pius X's masterly exposition of the purpose of sacred music (as a means by which the glory of God and the sanctification and edification of the faithful in the celebration of the Mass might be complemented and enhanced), and the qualities which the music for use in the liturgies of the Church of God must be possessed of.  Tra le sollecitudini was of course not the starting point of the renewal of sacred music and authentic liturgical composition that manifested itself in the first part of the twentieth century (one immediately thinks of the renewal of the French school - see brief account here).  But it was perhaps its high point.  Was Pope Benedict XI's pontificate the modern high water mark?  If so, we should see the effects well into the next fifty years. Let it be so!

Which is a rather long-winded way of introducing these beautiful videos of a relatively modest, but effective, setting of the Mass by Hendrik Andriessen (1892-1981) - Missa Christus Rex - sung here by the Haarlem Cathedral Choir.  The collapse of the Faith in the Netherlands is well documented.  These videos give comfort that it is not a complete spiritual and liturgical wasteland.  The bishop even intones the Gloria!

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Sydney Monteverdi concert reviewed by the Herald

The Sydney Morning Herald has a very favourable review of the Monterverdi 1610 Vespers performed last Thursday at St Mary's Cathedral by the combined choirs of the Cathedral and St James King Street, accompanied by Australian Baroque Brass playing on authentic instruments.

The article neglects expressly to mention that Monteverdi's composition was augmented by the proper chant antiphons, sung with great aplomb by the Scholars of the Cathedral.

The SMH, which is fast gaining a similar reputation to The Guardian in the matter of spelling (or rather misspelling), informs us that:
"The Hymn Ave maris stella started with celestial choral sounds from behind the alter [sic], bringing in brass from the left, strings from the right, a boys choir from the organ loft, golden-toned recorders from the pulpit and a delicate group of guitars and long-necked Chitarrone from behind, to create simple delight in the joining of space and sound."
I have written to the editor to have this corrected.  I have done this several times in the past and to their credit they have always effected the suggested changes very promptly.  My favourite editorial mishap (possibly induced by 'spell check') was when the paper earnestly reported that (now Saint) Mary Mackillop had been beautified!

Protester 1:  I mean, the badgers have dwelt there for generations.
Minister:  Ah well now, can you be sure of that?
Protester 2:  It said so in The Guardian!
[Protester 2 hands the Minister a copy of the said newspaper]
Minister: Oh, right … actually what it says here is that the ‘bodgers’ have ‘dealt’ there for generations!
A few years ago Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducted an excellent performance of the work at the Proms.  The Monteverdi Choir was joined by the London Oratory Junior Choir (see also below) and the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School Schola Cantorum:

Of course, many years ago he famously conducted the 1610 Vespers at the Basilica di San Marco (the London Oratory Junior Choir was involved in the performance):

The New College Choir, Oxford, has also recently recorded the work for CD:

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Vespro della Beata Vergine 1610 on the Feast of the Assumption


The resonant interior of St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney will tomorrow night be filled with the glorious sounds of choral singing and period brass as the choirs of the Cathedral and the neighbouring Anglican Church of St James, accompanied by Australian Baroque Brass, perform Monteverdi's celebrated setting of vespers (see more here and here).

There is a video of Australian Baroque Brass rehearsing this work with the Adelaide Chamber Singers in preparation for a concert in Adelaide in 2010.

For a CD recording of the work, it is hard to go past the one directed by Jordi Savall.  I bought a copy of this when I was in Lyon one year, and it have enjoyed listening to it regularly ever since.  Here's an extract:

I last attended a performance in Sydney of this work at the Anglican Christ Church St Laurence in 2010.  I seem to recall it was on a particularly hot March afternoon.  The polish on the pews - perhaps freshly applied to beautify the Church for the occasion - left a residue on the clothes of those audience members who were perspiring and glowing respectively!

For obvious reasons, 2010 was a Monteverdi Vespers year - and I have since learnt that the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs also performed the work in November of that year in Sydney's excellent City Recital Hall.