Agnus Dei

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'Agnus Dei'

  • Agnus Dei
  • Cantique de Jean Racine
  • Missa Papae Marcelli
  • Ave verum corpus
  • Cantata No. 147, 'Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben', Choral: Jesu bleibet meine Freude (Jesu, joy of man's desiring)
  • Vespers, 'All-Night Vigil', Ave Maria (Hail Mary)
  • Variations on an Original Theme, 'Enigma', Nimrod
  • Totus tuus
  • Hear my prayer
  • (The) Lamb, 'Little Lamb, who made thee?'
  • Requiem, In Paradisum
  • Miserere mei

It is becoming almost a statutory reward or ‘treat’ for a hardworking choir of established repute that they should take time off from psalms and canticles, polyphonic motets and (dread event) specially commissioned anthems, so as to indulge themselves and their listeners in a programme of the kind we have here. The Allegri, Bach, Faure and Mendelssohn are clear favourites, and though Tavener’s setting of William Blake’s Little lamb. who made thee? has still to pass the test of time it bids fair to join the list. When we realize that Barber’s Agnus Dei is an arrangement of his famous Adagio and that Elgar’s Lux aeterna is “Nimrod” with a halo, then those must be added too. One by one the remaining compositions join the charts, leaving only poor old Palestrina, whose Missa Papae Marcelli is nevertheless the first, and quite probably the only, work of his that comes very readily to memory by name.
There is, I suppose, just a chance that so much familiar loveliness will prove too rich a feast – I personally would not object to the omission of (say) one section of the Miserere or practically the whole of Gorecki’s Totus tuus – but in general the selection has been uncommonly well made and skilfully designed so that one item leads naturally to the next. The performances are delightful, with the single exception of “Jesus bleibet meine Freude” (“Jesu, joy of man’s desiring”) where each of the choir’s minims has its swell and diminuendo so that they bounce along before us like so many faintly ridiculous balloons. Thomas Herford is the excellent soloist in Hear my prayer and a capital exponent of the high C in the Allegri.
In his admirable notes for the booklet, Edward Higginbottom writes that the programme “begins with something rather unusual”, the arrangement of Barber’s Adagio; actually, there are eight other recordings of that currently available though none, it seems, of the Elgar. What is unusual, and common to both, is the quality of choral sound: also the warmth of the acoustic, not previously (I think) associated with New College Chapel but here providing an ideal setting.'

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