Thursday, 25 December 2014

Midnight Mass: Palestrina with Sackbuts and Cornetts from Westminster Cathedral

Westminster Cathedral Choir sang the Missa Hodie Christus Natus Est for Midnight Mass. From BBC Radio 4 (where you can listen to the broadcast, which will be available for the next 4 weeks at time of writing):
"A Venetian-style First Mass of Christmas with splendid Gabrieli motets and Palestrina's Missa Hodie Christus Natus Est (Today Christ is Born) make for a very special atmosphere as the Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols celebrates the First Mass of Christmas live from Westminster Cathedral. The vibrant sounds of traditional sackbutts and cornets played by the vituoso English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble will echo and re-echo around the cathedral exploiting its unique spacial properties. The service closes with the resplendent brass and organ voluntary: Hodie Christus Natus Est by Heinrich Schutz. The renowned choir of Westminster Cathedral is directed by Master of Music Martin Baker and the organ is played by the Assistant Master of Music Peter Stevens."
What is not mentioned in the BBC's precis, or on the cathedral's music list, is that the Gradual (Tecum Principium) is not the chant Gradual from the Graduale Romanum but rather a truncated version of the Dixit Dominus from Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers! By omitting the Virgam Virtutis Tuae section, and everything past the Tecum Principium In Die section, the same text of the gradual is sung, though not in order. I suppose if you have sackbuts and cornetts, you may as well maximise their use!

Credo III was interrupted for an extended "Et incarnatus est" (as is customary, to allow people to kneel, though common sense must be brought to bear in the choice of setting) - I am unable to identify where the Westminster Cathedral setting is from, but it is not from the Credo of the Missa Hodie Christus Natus Est).

Update: Westminster Cathedral seems to use this polyphonic setting of the "Et incarnatus est" often (perhaps every year) rather than the "Et incarnatus est" from the ordinary (I suppose this avoids the need to learn two separate prices - for Midnight Mass and Mass of Christmas Day, and there are some settings of the ordinary for which no Credo was composed). See below video from the Midnight Mass in 2001, where the ordinary was the Kodály Missa Brevis. I am pleased to say that I am not the only one to have speculated as to the origin of the polyphonic setting used at Westminster. Perhaps penned by a past Master of Music?

Back to Midnight Mass 2014: The Sanctus was from Mass IX (Cum Iubilo) not the Palestrina setting as previously listed.

St Mary's Cathedral Choir, Sydney, also had the Missa Hodie Christus Natus Est, with beautiful organ accompaniment, for the Mass of Christmas Day. Interpretation and singing were spot on. For Midnight Mass it was the lovely Malcolm Missa Ad Praesepe with some lively improvisation after the intonation of the Gloria. The Gospel was beautifully chanted, and for once we had the proper tone for "The Gospel of the Lord" (in Sydney there is widespread use of a most curious tone that I've not seen in any books, not even my superseded E J Dwyer Missal, and the new English Roman Missal was not successful in displacing it!)

Wishing a very happy Christmas to one and all.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

"All good music is contemporary": Herreweghe records William Byrd

When it comes to Byrd recordings, we really do have an embarrassment of riches. Now Philippe Herreweghe has recorded the Mass for Five Voices and the monumental Infelix Ego with the Collegium Vocal Gent. The maestro shares some of his insights into Renaissance polyphony.

Speaking of Byrd, listen to last weekend's installment of the Music Show on Radio National - it features an interview with the author of a new biography on Byrd, and extracts two pieces from the new recording by the Westminster Cathedral Choir, The Three Masses (Ave Verum Corpus and the Agnus Dei from the Mass for Three Voices). Note: if you stream the program, you can listen to the listed tracks in full, but they are shortened in the mp3 download, probably for copyright reasons.

My favourite part is when the interviewee says, "I'm just imagining Byrd walking down Victoria Street in the 21st century ..."

Westminster Cathedral Choir and Collegium Vocale Gent sing Byrd's music with quite different techniques, but I find each greatly effective.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Christmas Music at St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney

  • Friday 19 December, 19.30: Service of Lessons and Carols
  • Christmas Eve, 17.00: Solemn Choral Vespers
  • Christmas, 00.00: Midnight Mass (preceded by carols at 23.15, 24 December). The ordinary is the lovely Malcolm Missa ad Praesepe.
  • Christmas, 10.30: Mass of Christmas Day. The ordinary is the Palestrina Missa Hodie Christus natus est, though I can't imagine that it will be accompanied by a chitarrone (see below).

See the full music list here.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Archbishop of Sydney to celebrate Mass at St Mary's Cathedral for the victims of the Martin Place siege

The Mass will take place today, 16 December 2014, at 1.10 pm Sydney time.

Update: Here is the Archbishop's beautiful homily.
We are not used to hearing words like 'siege', 'terrorist', 'hostages' and 'security forces' associated with our city. Yet for the past day and night we were subjected to pictures and sounds we tend to associate with alien lands. In a café only two blocks away from St Mary's Cathedral, only one block away from the Supreme Court, even closer to the New South Wales Parliament, the Reserve Bank and the Channel 7 studio, hostages were pinned for hours against the windows and forced to hold up a flag which blasphemously used the name of God as a threat. The distress was visible on their faces, as was the relief of the first five to escape. We went to bed hoping to wake to good news. But despite patient efforts to maintain calm and negotiate there were, in the early hours of this morning, flashes of gunfire, intervention by our police to save lives, merciful escapes, but finally death. Hell had touched us.
Only history will tell how much 16 December 2014 will affect our attitudes, behaviour, life-style. But today the heart of our city is broken by the deaths of two innocent 'hostages' along with their tormentor, the injuries of four others and trauma to many more, the paralysis our city has experienced this day past. One of the deceased was Katrina Dawson, a mother of three young children and gifted barrister, presumably on her way to chambers for another day's service of her clients. The other, Tori Johnson, was the young manager of the café, likewise intent on serving his customers. And the third was Sheik Man Haron Monis the perpetrator of this nightmare. Much is still unclear about him, his motivations and affiliations, and we must avoid too quickly jumping to conclusions and pointing fingers.
We are used to living in a peaceful, tolerant, secure society in which people may enter a café and order a hot chocolate without fear: I've been a customer at the Lindt Chocolat Café myself more than once. For such ease of living, such assumptions of safety, to be so radically challenged can be disorienting and harden our hearts. The risk is that we become cautious, cynical, suspicious of our neighbours, or worse, that we turn on them. In the process we undermine what we most love about our Australian way of life.
Christmas is around the corner and we have had a Christmas crib with well-lit Christmas trees, and a very beautiful laser light show projected upon the façade of the cathedral every night. But last night it was in darkness. That is true to reality, as it is often is, true to the Gospel. In the middle of all the romance of Christmas, the astonishing Good News of God-made-man for us, the angels, shepherds and wise men adoring, the Gospel report that all was not quite as it ought to be. There's suspicion about the pregnancy; the husband considers divorcing his wife; a mother nearing labour is required to travel a great distance; there's no room at the motel for them; the child is delivered in the squalor of a cowshed; in the Temple the proud parents are warned of trouble ahead; the family must flee as refugees to a strange land; meanwhile the King's men kill the rest of the little children.  
So the backdrop to the Light who will dawn for us at Christmas is in fact darkness. The Way, the Truth and the Life comes to people who often lose their way, to a civilisation sometimes more comfortable with lies than truth, to what is often a culture of death more than of life. The Christ is threatened from the moment of His birth until the violence of this world finally catches up with Him on the cross. And our world today is every bit as mixed up as it was at the first Christmas. There's plenty of talk of human rights, the dignity of the person, equal respect and care. We are replete with resources, technology and know-how to help people through troubled times. Yet innocent people are threatened the world over and a little bit of what is commonplace in the region of Christ's birth has even come to Martin Place. Christmas, we think, is supposed to be different - but in a sense it was always like this.
Yet we Christians believe that the Babe of Bethlehem is the Prince of peace, God-with-us, God-one-of-us, God-saving-us. So why, if the Prince of Peace has come, do these terrible things keep happening? Perhaps the answer is in the first Christmas carol, when the angels sang "Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to those of good will." The God who saves still leaves men free. They choose whether to be of good will or not. The Christ-child proposes peace, again and again; He gives us the wherewithal to be reconciled and live peaceably with our neighbours; but in the end we choose whether to live in His kingdom, by His values.
Is the joy, love and peace of Christmas really possible? Or do we have to adopt a more 'realistic' posture, more cynical and self-protective? Do we have to buy into the endless cycles of violence and recrimination? Do we have to take our own hostages? Reports have emerged this morning of the heroism of the male victim of the siege. Apparently seeing an opportunity, Tori grabbed the gun. Tragically it went off killing him, but it triggered the response of the police and eventual freedom for most of the hostages. Reports have also emerged that Katrina Dawson was shielding her pregnant friend from gunfire. These heroes were willing to lay down their lives so others might live, imitating the sacrifice of Christ who said that there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for each other (Jn 15:13). Now spontaneous tributes are appearing in Martin Place and on the internet. Leaders of all religious, political and ethnic backgrounds are calling for calm, for prayer, for support for each other. Services are being offered for the victims, their families and friends. The darkness need not overcome the light. Indeed, the Christmas-Easter-Christian message is: it cannot! There is something greater than hatred and violence. There is Love, that humble, self-donative Love that comes in the shape of the Christmas Babe, the Prince of Peace. He can soften the hardest hearts. He can convert the most hardened sinner. Come Prince of Peace. Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Sydney subdued after tragic end to siege in legal precinct

What a terrible, terrible event with a such desperately sad ending. Among the two hostage victims was a barrister from chambers across the road from the cafe. The legal fraternity is in utter disbelief at this shocking tragedy and offers its condolences to the victims' families and friends.

Update: The late gunman's name is well known in the legal profession, due to the High Court case of Monis v The Queen (2013) 249 CLR 92 on the constitutionally implied freedom of political communication, arising from Mr Monis' prosecution for sending certain malicious communications to the families of deceased Australian military personnel. Mr Monis sought having the statutory provision under which he was charged declared constitutionally invalid. After a unanimous decision against him in the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal, Mr Monis appealed to the High Court, which comprised 6 rather than the usual 7 Justices (due to the imminent retirement of Justice Gummow at the time of the hearing). The High Court was split 3:3 on the question of the constitutionality of the statutory offence with which Mr Monis had been charged. The Judiciary Act 1903 solved the tie by requiring that the decision in the court below be affirmed. Hence, the relevant statutory offence not being unconstitutional, the prosecution of Mr Monis continued.

Mr Monis ultimately pleaded guilty and was convicted. He subsequently appealed against his conviction, seeking to agitate the same constitutional argument that had previously failed (albeit in unusual circumstances). He applied to have the proceedings removed to the High Court. That removal application was heard on Friday 12 December 2014, but two Justices of the High Court declined to exercise their discretion to order the removal of the proceedings, and Mr Monis' application was thereby refused.

Simply horrendous.

Flags on Sydney's Harbour Bridge flying at half mast, on a grey and foreboding morning that stands in sharp contrast to yesterday's brilliant summer weather.
A stunned silence has fallen across the usually bustling city. 

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Ecce Sacerdos Magnus by MacMillan, Bruckner

I note that the MacMillan Ecce Sacerdos Magnus was programmed for the Bishop Comensoli enthronement but apparently not sung. It is a lovely piece, sung at the enthronement of Archbishop Fisher recently in Sydney, and was originally commissioned for the ordination of Bishop Gilbert, the current bishop of Aberdeen, Scotland. Westminster Cathedral Choir have recorded the work.

One of my favourite settings of Ecce Sacerdos Magnus is by Anton Bruckner. Here Westminster Cathedral Choir sing the piece after the Papal Mass at Westminster Cathedral in 2010. I have deliberately started the video a few moments before the piece begins, to serve as a reminder of what remarkable affection young people showed towards Pope Benedict, an affection clearly reciprocated by the Holy Father (as he then was). Your patience will then be rewarded by a stunning account of the Bruckner motet.

Bishop Comensoli enthroned in Broken Bay

Watch the Mass of enthronement here, download the order of service here. I must say, I was very pleasantly surprised with the selection of music. Other information about the ceremony can be accessed here.

Read about the ceremony here and here (with pictures).

Congratulations to the new bishop of Broken Bay.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Gentleman of the St Mary's Cathedral Choir Sydney: CD

The Gentlemen of the St Mary's Cathedral Choir, Sydney, under the fine direction of Thomas Wilson have recorded a CD: Mass and Vespers of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The recording took place in 2011 and was released earlier this year.

The CD is on the excellent Herald label, which specialises in church music, and is part of the Aid to the Church in Need project. Details of the CD are now online here, here and here. Funnily enough, if you want to hear excerpts of the CD you must go to the Dutch Aid to the Church in Need website "kerkinnood".

I would recommend giving the CD as a Christmas gift. Indeed, despite the main theme being Marian, the Mass IX setting (Cum Iubilo) included on the disk can also double as a Christmastide setting (a perfect way to offset a long polyphonic Kyrie and Gloria is to substitute the Kyrie with that from Mass IX - this also improves the proportion of direct congregational participation).

I bought the CD shortly after its release, from the Cathedral shop. My favourite track is the Victoria Magnificat. The countertenor line is sumptuous indeed. The CD is full to the brim with polyphony and plainchant, beautifully sung and recorded. Highly recommended.

St Mary's Cathedral Choir, Sydney, sing Fauré's Requiem at Cardinal Clancy's Funeral: Video

xt3 have the full video of the beautiful solemn pontifical Mass of Christian Burial of His Eminence Edward Bede Cardinal Clancy, the seventh Archbishop of Sydney on 9 August 2014.

Yet again, the wonderful St Mary's Cathedral Choir showcase their superb singing - another reminder of how essential such choirs are to glorify God and sanctify His people. Sydney is blessed to have a choir of such outstanding class.

Since his installation in November 2014, the new Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher OP, has already described the choir he inherited from Cardinal Pell as "most excellent" and "the finest in the Land".