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.