Thursday, 24 December 2015

Midnight Mass from Sydney

Apologies for neglecting to post in a while. I may or may not have the chance to catch up on a fair bit that's been happening in London. In the meantime, here is the Midnight Mass from St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney where the music was splendid as usual. Nice to see Rutter's famous carol getting an outing. And it didn't pass my notice that during Advent there was a most pleasing development, viz. the introduction of Credo I in Latin. Most excellent. A blessed Christmas to all.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Interview with Martin Baker on Chant and Polyphony

It appears in the latest Latin Mass Society journal - do visit their site here for details on obtaining a copy.

Favourite bit: the introduction of the newer rite of the Mass and/or its aftermath being described with typical English understatement as having caused a "wobble" at Westminster Cathedral.

Wanton barbarism

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Armistice Day

It's nice to see that the traditional two minute reflection at 11h00 on 11 November, instituted by King George VI, is still observed, and even in Marks and Spencer an announcement was made encouraging customers to make the observance in the shop.

The other, earlier, Victoria Requiem

Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them.

Let us pray.
Grant, we beseech Thee, O Lord our God, that the souls of Thy sons and daughters in the armed services who have perished in conflicts past, the memory of whom we keep with special reverence, and for whom we are bidden and are bound to pray, may rest in the bosom of Thy saints; and hereafter, in the resurrection from the dead, may please Thee in the land of the living. Through Christ our Lord. 

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Christmas Choral Music in Sydney

If you are in Sydney remember to get your tickets early to one of the highlights of the year at St Mary's Cathedral - "A Christmas Celebration". Featuring a chamber orchestra there will be glorious music by J. S. Bach, Handel, James MacMillan and John Rutter, as well as traditional Christmas carols that the audience is encouraged to sing with the choir.

A recent photograph of Australia's foremost liturgical choir

Tickets are available by visiting this website. Seating plan is here. What are you waiting for?

Monday, 2 November 2015

All Souls' Eve at Magdalen College, Oxford: Full Faure Requiem

The people thronged to Magdalen College Chapel on a decidedly misty autumn evening in Oxford for the commemoration of All Souls' Eve with Fauré's Requiem accompanied by organ, strings and harp. The choir was in good voice, producing a very natural sound not too dissimilar to that cultivated by George Guest when director at St John's College at The Other Place. Hear for yourself:

FIDÉLIUM Deus, ómnium cónditor et redémptor: animábus famulórum famularúmque tuárum remissiónem cunctórum tríbue peccatórum; ut indulgéntiam, quam semper optavérunt, piis supplicatiónibus consequántur: Qui vivis et regnas ...

O God, the Creator and Redeemer of all the faithful: grant to the souls of Thy servants and handmaidens the remission of all their sins: that through our devout prayers, they may obtain that pardon which they have always desired: Who livest and reignest ...

Before the mist descended

What's this? A rival choir singing Fauré's Requiem

Excuse this little indulgence - but when in Oxford, the best coffee (which is in fact excellent) is to be found at The Missing Bean on Turl St

Friday, 30 October 2015

Monteverdi Vespers at Westminster Cathedral

In a few weeks, after having heard many settings of the Requiem, it may be necessary to reset before Christ the King. What better way than to attend the lavish setting of Vespers by Claudio Monteverdi at Westminster Cathedral on Wednesday 11 November at 19h30?

And here are two videos to whet the appetite: one is a great recent performance under Sir John Eliot Gardiner (in the Versailles Palace Chapel) and the other a documentary about the Vespers, with some fine performances under Harry Christophers.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Glorious Byrd for Blessed Martyrs of Douai

A light drizzle was apt to dampen the spirits of those trudging along the streets of London on a mid-autumn evening, but they needed only to step out of the inclement weather and the rush, and into Westminster Cathedral for the perfect tonic - spiritual and musical.

For today Westminster  Diocese celebrated the memorial of the Blessed Martyrs of Douai College today, honouring those College members - religious, priests and laymen - who died between 1577 and 1680. I believe St. Ambrose Barlow, arrested on Easter Sunday 1641 and martyred in a most violent manner on 10 September of that same year, is among the martyrs of Douai, however as he was one of the forty English martyrs canonised in 1970 he has his own feast day (10 September).

Fitting, then, that the music of Byrd (three part Mass, Ne Irascaris, Civitas Sancti), exquisitely rendered by the lay clerks of Westminster Cathedral, was programmed for the memorial Mass. Oddly, it's not often that one hears the three-part Mass which is a shame as it's one of the most well crafted of any Mass in the renaissance repertoire. The Agnus Dei in particular reveals Byrd's incredible ability to make so much out of so little - a Master in the true sense.  

Happily, two of my three top recommended recordings of the three part Mass are available of Youtube - namely by the Cardinall's Musick (Carwood, ASV) and the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford (Darlington, Nimbus). The other recommendation is of course the Westminster Cathedral Choir's own recent recording (Baker, Hyperion). Here's to hoping that Baker commits more Byrd to disc soon - the Masses are wonderful, but Darlington's Masses were spread across three discs with three sets of propers and miscellaneous motets by Byrd. And Carwood and co have famously committed Byrd's entire output to disc across some 13 volumes on two labels (ASV, Hyperion). Hyperion may not be inclined to record more Byrd just at the moment, but two issues could be raised here. First, over half the Byrd cycle under Carwood is on a different label, and secondly many of the recordings on Hyperion didn't quite reach the heights of the ASV recordings (notwithstanding the final volume winning a Gramophone award). So an intelligently conceived compilation of some of Byrd's wider output could still be justified and would be most welcome indeed.  

At 1:38 - wow, what a remarkable tenor line

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Festal Music in London in November for All Saints, All Souls and Christ the King

All Saints, All Souls and Christ the King are all celebrated in this month, providing a veritable choral feast at the major London Catholic churches. Here I provide selected music lists for Westminster Cathedral and the London Oratory - I may broaden the list to include other churches, time permitting. 

Westminster Cathedral
Westminster Cathedral
The Oratory
All Saints –
Sunday 1 November
10.30 am
Mozart Coronation Mass
11.00 am
Allegri Missa Vidi turbam magnam
All Souls –
Monday 2 November
5.30 pm
Mozart Requiem (accompaniment not listed)
Mozart Requiem (with orchestra)
Remembrance Day –
Sunday 8 November
10.30 am
Faure Requiem
11.00 am
Victoria Requiem, 1605
Requiem for deceased Fathers and Brothers –
Friday 13 November
[6.00 pm – TBC]
Anerio Requiem
Christus Rex –
Sunday 22 November
10.30 am
Vierne Messe solennelle
11.00 am
Victoria Missa Laetatus sum

I wonder if Westminster Cathedral will be performing the Vierne Mass as originally scored for timbales and cuivres (or timpani and trumpets being near equivalents)? That would be splendid indeed!! (The full title of the Mass is Messe solennelle pour chœurs, cuivres, timbales et deux orgues op.16 en ut dièse mineur.) Here's a performance without the additional instruments.

I must say, there are many settings of the Requiem, quite fit for "modern" liturgical purposes (or able to be made fit e.g. by substituting chant for some of the polyphonic parts) that tend, for reasons unknown, to be neglected. For instance: settings by Morales, Guerrero, Lobo (Duarte), du Caurroy, Pizzetti, Lassus and Clemens non Papa all spring to mind.



Du Caurroy


Beautiful Spatzenmesse from Sydney

St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney was filled with the sweet sound of ... not quite sparrows, but the delightful Missa Brevis of Mozart whose title is so-called due to the sparrow-like calls to be heard in the Hosannas (at least when the orchestral version is performed), though these were replaced by a chant Sanctus, as is not an uncommon occurrence. And there is some enjoyable Haydn at the Offertory.

It really is rather wonderful that the Sunday Masses are now webcast from Sydney - it gives hope to people far and wide that the Catholic Mass can be celebrated with due dignity.

On another matter, and only out of love for that cathedral, I feel compelled to point out a most displeasing development. Viz., the stumpy candles adorning the altar. They just don't look right in the context of that cathedral, that altar and the general notion of what makes a good, visually appealing,  altar candle arrangement. They are too short, and they lack a candle stick - the lily pad on which they sit rather does add to the whole kitsch picture. I'm genuinely surprised at this development because candles of this nature have not, to my knowledge, ever adorned the modern front altar currently in situ which was consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 (though some even uglier ones than those now being considered - ones that came in "clusters" of three or varying heights (yes you know the ones) - have been used in the past). The cathedral has various sets of nicely proportioned candle sticks with relatively slender, tall candles that provide for an aesthetically far more appealing altar arrangement (and one that emphasises the vertical rather than the horizontal aspects of the divine liturgy being celebrated). Why it was felt necessary to introduce this set of candles is not altogether apparent, but serious consideration should be given to donating the candles and the lily pads on which they sit to the local St Vincent de Paul society forthwith (the closest one is on Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills - number 406 to be precise). Many parties would thereby benefit.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Beautiful Mass from Paderborn Cathedral

When I'm not jolted by some incongruous or clunky aspect of the ceremonial of a Novus Ordo Mass, I'm surprised - in the best possible way of course. It strikes me that video below comes rather close to realising what the mid-twentieth century liturgical reformers may have had in mind - not that the actual liturgical reform was by any means the only possible eventuality that could have followed from a faithful reading of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, but the video above does seem to approach a best case scenario for celebrating what ended up being the papally-mandated New[er] Order of Mass.

So when the Archbishop of Paderborn sings "In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti ... Pax Vobis", and the congregation responds in kind, and it doesn't register for several minutes that this was even in a "strange", "dead" language, the signs are good. The more that it becomes again second nature to regard Latin as the Mother Tongue of the Roman Rite, the better. The bishop chanting the celebrant's prayers in Latin is also, I think, worthwhile. If our shepherds are not going to put themselves up publicly as the custodians of the Church's tongue, and more generally Her ritual (including especially Her great musical treasure including the age-old tones for chanting the Mass) who will? Having the introit, gradual, alleluia all chanted is a bonus in some ways, but shouldn't be in a cathedral setting. It should be absolutely fundamental.

A few matters are obviously able to be questioned in a more considered analysis of the post-Conciliar liturgical usage - the orientation of the priest, the reconfiguration of the entire sanctuary of the cathedral, the altar rails that seem to have be "lost" etc etc. But I suppose one is duty-bound to make the best of the situation that one is given, and it seems to me that the archbishop has in essence done just that. No costly restorations to undo the potentially costly apparent re-orderings of his predecessor (though there may come a time when the People of God require this to be done - Brisbane Australia is perhaps a good example where there is a pressing need to undo some truly horrible - and surely hideously expensive - 1980s design atrocities inflicted on a poor innocent (heritage listed) Gothic-revival church - think 1980s tower lobby of grey marble and palms).*

One thing that is slightly odd (though personally I rather like it) is that the Archbishop sings the Preface to what I like to call the "super solemn" tone - I think its actually referred to as the "more solemn" tone in the books of the older rite, but as far as I am am aware this never made its way into the Missal of the newer rite - in my view a very great shame. It's actually fiendishly difficult to master though, but the Archbishop does a rather good job of it. And could be justified on the basis that this was some rather important saint's feast day - I gather that of the patron saint of the Paderborn Cathedral and Archdiocese Saint Liborius. The fact that I'm even saying that an Archbishop is intoning a Preface in Latin in the newer rite is making me pinch myself.  

The Mass setting - a twentieth century one by Wolfgang Seifen (Missa in hon. Sancti Libori) is I think a worthwhile one. 

I'm waiting for the day when that great bastion of liturgical excellence - Westminster Cathedral - makes its Sunday 10.30 am Mass more like its Saturday 10.30 am Mass, viz. a genuine Latin Novus Ordo Mass. I understand that this may be perceived as a rather pedantic observation in the circumstances. 

On another note, I'm not sure whether I love or not the custom at Cologne Cathedral of having a rather extravagant organ introduction to the Gloria. Musically, it has rather a flamboyantly French flavour to it. What do you think? There is however  no doubting that that organ is SENSATIONAL. Also in the video below enjoy Haydn's Schöpfungsmesse with orchestra.  

* I understand that the building was in need of restoration at the time, but what eventuated went far beyond restoring the building to its intended design and was almost certainly driven by the prevailing erroneous ideologies of the administration of the day. Actually, come to think of it, Perth's St Mary's Cathedral is arguably even worse - though also more complicated because the cathedral's original design had not been fully realised when the restoration was undertaken).

St. Stephen's Cathedral Brisbane

Does this look like the interior of a Gothic-revival church? Perth trying to outdo Brisbane. 

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

God save our gracious Pope

It has occurred to me how rather beautiful is the (full) anthem of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (and of Australia until as recently as 1984 with a brief hiatus in the mid-1970s). And how appropriate are the words when applied to that other somewhat well-known reigning monarch. With apologies to any (British) monarchists and those of a less Papist disposition:

God save our gracious Pope

Long live our noble Pope

God save the Pope

Send him victorious

Happy and glorious

Long to reign over us

God save the Pope

O Lord our God arise

Scatter his enemies

And make them fall

Confound their politics

Frustrate their knavish tricks

On Thee our hopes we fix

God save us all

Thy choicest gifts in store

On him be pleased to pour

Long may he reign

May he defend Thy laws

And ever give us cause

To sing with heart and voice

God save the Pope

Not in Roma alone

But be God's mercies known

From shore to shore

Lord make the nations see

That men should brothers be

And form one family

The wide world o'er

From every latent foe,

From the assassins blow,

God save the Pope!

O'er him Thine arm extend,

For the world's sake defend,

Our father, prince, and friend,

God save the Pope!

With the present goings-on, one could have lots of fun modifying this final (extremely politically incorrect) verse (and I mean no offence whatsoever to any Scots):

[Lord grant that [Marshal Wade]

May by thy mighty aid

Victory bring.

May he sedition hush,

And like a torrent rush,

Rebellious [Scots] to crush.

God save the [Queen!]]

Monday, 19 October 2015

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Westminsteriensis: Euge indeed

Two Sunday Masses and the Red Mass provided the perfect opportunity for me to reacquaint myself with the liturgical life of Westminster Cathedral. Beautiful Byrd, Glorious Guerrero, Resplendent Red Robes and Tremendous Tye.

Two Sundays ago it was the Byrd five part Mass and the stunning Guerrero motet O Sacrum Convivium, a staple of the Cathedral Choir - at least since the ground breaking recording under Hill entitled Treasures of the Spanish Renaissance - and which was on this occasion rendered superbly well.

Barristers-at-law in procession, some in full-bottomed wigs
The Red Mass last Thursday was a splendid occasion marking the commencement of the legal year (specifically the Michaelmas Law Term which runs from the first working day in October following the feast of St Michael the Archangel to Christmas). The judicial procession was led by The Right Honourable the Lord Kerr of Tonaghmore, Justice of the United Kingdom Supreme Court (since 2009 the highest court in England and Wales and Northern Ireland, and Scotland for civil cases only, formerly the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords which was a special committee that carried out the judicial functions of the House of Lords). Other judges from the High Court ("red judges") and Circuit Court ("purple judges") were also in attendance as were many barristers (the Queen's Counsel notable for their full-bottomed or ceremonial wigs) and solicitors, your humble scribe included.

Justice of the Supreme Court, clad in robes by Ede & Ravenscroft, judicial tailors since 1689
"Red judges" of the High Court of Justice
Circuit Court Judges, gloves in hand
The Mass was celebrated by the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain, the excellent Archbishop Mennini, and the affable Cardinal Nichols sat in choir and gave the homily. The Full Choir sang Victoria's Missa O Quam Gloriosum and motets by Palestrina and Byrd. The Introit was the hymn Veni Creator Spiritu, perhaps the only time at a solemn choral Mass at Westminster Cathedral that a hymn replaces the ordinary introit (which I imagine would be Spiritus Domini as the Mass is a Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit)?

The Cathedral Choir singing splendid Spanish polyphony
His Excellency Archbishop Mennini doing the honours
His Eminence Vincent Cardinal Nichols in choir dress
The order of service
Then last Sunday I was thrilled and delighted to hear the full four parts of the Agnus Dei of Christopher Tye's masterpiece the Missa Euge Bone!! Normally, for entirely understandable reasons, only two (sometimes three) of the four movements are selected to form "Agnus Dei I" and "Angus Dei II", often sandwiching the Ecce Agnus Dei. Certainly that has been my experience at most places where this Mass finds itself among the repertoire. And yet... musically I have always felt that the balance was missing. The Missa Euge Bone is a curious Mass and the Agnus Dei has some interesting harmonic passages and oddly "abrupt" sounding endings (characteristic of much of Tye's Latin music). But when the piece is taken as a whole its true magnificence is revealed. Most importantly, the stratospheric "nobis" that appears from nowhere to complete the third movement, after the main melody has been repeated mesmerisingly what seems like a dozen (but is probably about four) times, is the first of two climaxes that depend on each other for maximum efficacy. The second is of course the "mundi" of the final movement, with its glorious alto and soprano lines that arch perfectly over a muscular bass undercurrent, leading into the extended concluding passage "Dona nobis pacem". But it makes sense only by reference to the end of the third movement. Cut this out and the final movement is bereft of the musical continuity that is required to give it proper context.

Thus, just as there may be strong liturgical arguments in favour of cutting out say the middle two movements, so there are musical reasons for declining to do so. It may be that Westminster has chosen to sing the whole four movements only as recently as 2014 - prior to that the Agnus Dei of the Missa Euge Bone appears (at least on some occasions) to have been sung incomplete (see here and here). If so, 2014 saw a most pleasing development and one that set a precedent apparently being followed in 2015.

Recordings of the Missa Euge Bone are relatively abundant in fact, and more remarkably they are mostly of a consistently high standard. The pick of the Cathedral/College choir bunch would have to be the Winchester Cathedral Choir recording under David Hill (Hyperion), with very fine efforts by Ely Cathedral Choir under Trepte (with the most resonant acoustic) (ASV), and King's College Choir under Ledger (EMI). A more recent recording by the Westminster Abbey Choir under O'Donnell (also Hyperion) is the least satisfying though the singing is hardly unrefined (indeed the men's voices are arguably the most refined of any of the Cathedral/College recordings) - it just fails to make an impression on one as much as the others do. Perhaps it is because it is the most 'clinical' of the recordings. For instance, the Agnus Dei is taken so briskly and matter-of-factly that it is starved of much of its inherent intensity. An easy first overall choice would have been the intimate but warm sounding Oxford Camerata recording under Summerly (Naxos) had it not been for an astonishing thing: the first movement of the Agnus Dei curse it is omitted - and no liturgical arguments can be brought to bear here!! This is a crying shame because the Mass in all other respects is given a stunning performance. Most annoyingly, no reason for the omission is given, leading one to speculate as to a cause. Was the first movement recorded but deemed to be deficient, not re-recorded and so edited out? Was it edited out accidentally (there was certainly space left on the CD for the extra movement)? Or did Summerly decide not to record it at all for some reason of scholarship? Even with only three movements, Summerly's Agnus Dei clocks in at 5 minutes 46 seconds - compared with O'Donnell whose four movements last only 5 minutes and 6 seconds. Hill completes the four movements in 8 minutes and 7 seconds. The Sixteen have also recorded just the Agnus Dei of the Mass (Coro) - a recording of the whole Mass may well have seen it take first place. As it is, it would be a difficult thing to choose which of Summerly or Hill to take to the desert island.

Though slightly rough around the edges this recording in the spacious acoustic of the Ely Cathedral Lady Chapel has a lot to recommend it, not least of which is the`fact that Tye was once the Master of the Choristers at Ely.  

This recording from a Mass in Amsterdam is about as fast as the O'Donnell recording but doesn't feel nearly as rushed 

Meticulous attention to detail makes this recording by Sir Philip Ledger and oldie but a goodie

The Sixteen under the steady hand of Harry Christophers tackle Tye with customary aplomb

With the Westminster Cathedral Choir in such fine form at the moment (just listen to the acclaimed recording of the Byrd Masses), and with the Missa Euge Bone receiving a remarkable treatment under Baker, it is a shame that the Cathedral Choir cannot go straight into a recording studio and give us another version of this English renaissance masterpiece on disc for posterity - I dare say it would have the potential to trump all previous recordings.

A previous recording of the Missa Euge Bone by Kings College under Sir David Willcocks (Argo/Decca) which has never made it to digital format as far as I can tell

To account for the lack of a Kyrie in the Missa Euge Bone, there would seem to be three options: (a) use the third option at the penitential rite (the least desirable solution); (b) sing a chant Kyrie (the most logical solution); and (c) use the sprinkling rite. The latter solution was chosen at Westminster Cathedral so we had a rare opportunity to sing the Asperges Me during an ordinary form Mass, as well as to hear the beautiful prayer at the blessing of the water (and salt as is customary at Westminster).

Well done all concerned.

Most photos of the Red Mass are sourced from the Westminster Archdiocesan Flickr account. Copyright Archdiocese of Westminster.  

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).

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:

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Interesting Lecture from the Antipodes on Gregorian Chant

This was given in 2012 by Associate Professor Neil McKewan, a New-Zealand-Australian academic at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and choral director at Christ Church St Laurence (high C of E church in central Sydney). Contains some useful explanations, and demonstrations by "monks" in dress up. He has recently released a CD - Mysteries of Gregorian Chant - sung by the Singers of St Laurence, which I am just about to listen to.

Friday, 17 April 2015

(Belated) Happy Birthday Pope Emeritus!

Celebrating the occasion yesterday with a halbe.

I seem to recall reading somewhere that the Mass in C minor of Mozart is one of his favourite pieces - it's one of mine too (last count I have about 9 recordings). So enjoy this performance of the work - Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducting the Monteverdi Choir and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra.

And here is a video of the choir formerly conducted by his brother, the Regensburger Domspatzen - they're singing the wonderful motet for Maundy Thursday by Lassus - Tristis est anima mea.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Holy Week in Sydney and Cologne: Collected Videos

The full video (picture and audio) for the Mass of the Last Supper at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney is now available. I will take the opportunity to post all the Holy Week videos in one spot. Also, a few of the Holy Week videos from the High Cathedral of Saints Peter and Mary in Cologne - along with St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney and Westminster Cathedral, one of my favourite churches.


Chrism Mass

Mass of the Last Supper

Solemn Good Friday Liturgy

Easter Vigil

Solemn Mass of Easter Sunday


Solemn Good Friday Liturgy

Easter Vigil

And here is a great video from Easter 2012 when the great Cardinal Meisner was the Archbishop. The Mass setting is the lovely Rheinberger Cantus Missae.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Musical Selections from 2015 Easter Mass at St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney

I do encourage you to watch the entire Easter Sunday Mass (10.30 am) filmed at St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney (see previous post) - it is a great example of the richness of the ceremonial of the Roman Rite, particularly in its treasury of sacred music. However, it is understandable that navigating through a two hour long video to find certain parts may present some challenges, so here are a few particular highlights of the music at the Mass. You will soon appreciate that this is a choir that deserves its reputation as the finest liturgical choir in the land. Indeed, much greater claims in this regard could be made. Thanks to all who made this celebration so beautiful, and particular thanks must go to those whose initiative has led to the filming of the Cathedral Holy Week services.* St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney has in recent years consolidated its place as a bastion of excellence in Roman Catholic liturgical standards, and it is high time that it receives the attention and credit it deserves. And as the Archbishop noted today, this is the standard of the Solemn Mass every Sunday, and rightly so too.

Happy Easter one and all.

Introit: Resurrexit

Kyrie & Gloria from Missa Papae Marcelli by G.P. da Palestrina

Gradual (Haec dies sung in English)

Sequence (Victimae Paschalis Laudes) and Alleluia (Pascha nostrum)

Offertory Motet: Regina Caeli for eight voices by G.P da Palestrina

Sanctus from Mass I

Agnus Dei I from Missa Papae Marcelli by G.P. da Palestrina

Agnus Dei II from Missa Papae Marcelli by G.P. da Palestrina

O filii et filiae by Tisserand arr. Baker

Just in case you missed these very kind words from our Director of Music, Thomas Wilson. He has thanked various people...
Posted by St Mary's Cathedral Choir, Sydney on Sunday, 5 April 2015

The Solemnity of Solemnities: Easter Sunday Solemn Sung Mass from St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney

Plainchant and polyphony in abundance. See the full Holy Week music list here, or the music for Easter Sunday below.

Click to enlarge

Re-post from 2013: Passio Domini nostri Iesu Christi secundum Joannem

Apologies for anyone who attempted to read this old post in preparation for Holy Week, as the videos do not appear to have been working. The problem is now fixed, for Holy Week next year! Note that the final video of the Improperia is different. The original video (Westminster Cathedral Choir) is no longer on Youtube. The replacement is from St Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, NYC.

Original post

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John ...

This is part one of the St. John Passion, provided to assist priests, deacons, cantors and choirs to learn how to sing the Passion on Good Friday.  It also happens to be one of the most sublime recordings of chant ever made - the cadences when the narrator introduces the words of Christ are particularly well sung.  I urge you to buy one of the Naxos CDs which has this chant on it: In Passione et Morte Domini: Gregorian Chant for Good Friday or Ultimate Chant.

Here is the pdf of the music.

There are very good English arrangements to be found.


Video of one such English version from St Mary's Cathedral on 29 March 2013 (with the crowd's parts being sung to an arrangement of T. L. de Victoria):

And another version, Latin, with the original Victoria setting for the crowd:

Also for Good Friday - the Improperia. This is Victoria's setting, sung by the Choir of Men & Boys of St Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, New York under the direction of John Scott. Recorded live on Good Friday 2011.

Friday, 3 April 2015

The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to John - The Good Friday Solemn Liturgy from St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney

Great singing all round - from the Archbishop through to the people. But of course, special credit to the excellent Cathedral Choir. And we are hearing the "proper" tone for the end of the Gospel more and more.

Bach's Johannes Passion

This is one of the finest recordings of Bach's masterpiece - the late Maestro Bruggen conducts the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century and the Netherlands Chamber Choir. No other recording of the first movement, Herr, unser Herrscher, makes the hair stand on end quite like this one.