From the Vaults of Westminster Cathedral
The front cover gives little hint of what the disc might contain since the title simply states “A procession of chant and polyphony”. As it turns out, the programme processes from Advent through Christmas to Epiphany and the Presentation, each season featuring a setting of the Mass, interspersed with a thoroughly mixed collection of motets, carols and the evening canticles.
The earlier polyphonic works are splendidly sung. It was, after all, Westminster Cathedral’s first director of music, Richard Runciman Terry, who almost single-handedly led the revival of Renaissance polyphony in London while also encouraging young, contemporary composers such as Howells, who produced his Mass in the Dorian Mode in 1912. The Monteverdi Messa a 4 is especially virile and mellifluous.
It was a pleasant surprise to hear (for the first time) the Missa ad praesepe (Mass at the Crib) composed by one of Terry’s successors, George Malcolm, in 1959. Its Gloria is especially lovely and memorable. Maurice Bevan’s Magnificat is something of a throwback, stylistically, and pales somewhat when juxtaposed against Charles Wood’s beautifully wrought Nunc dimittis.
Throughout, the choral singing under Martin Baker’s direction glows resplendently, while still retaining its celebrated “continental” edge. Another tremendous plus is the exhilarating, splashy, dynamic and fiery improvisations dished up by Matthew Martin on the Grand Organ. Who could fail to be moved by the image of lolloping camels in his cinematic concluding Marche des Rois mages?
The recording is up to Hyperion’s exemplary high standards. What other treasures will the Westminster Vaults give up?