MARTIN; MARTINŮ 'The Secret Mass'
This is an intriguing programme. Though one might initially think that it is simply inspired by the juxtaposition of the composers’ names, in fact they were both born in 1890 and their careers were both singular enough to make a comparison of their work a project of considerable interest. Martin’s Mass has gone from a work hardly performed to a staple of the choral repertoire, and justly so: it is a composition of tremendous luminosity and great variety. This performance is not the most engaging I have heard – for that one would need The Sixteen, Westminster Cathedral Choir or the Vasari Singers – but the choral sound is rich and warm. There is something a little perfunctory, for example, about the Kyrie, and especially the ‘Christe’, which sounds rushed, but the choir’s response to the later movements of the work is deeply affecting.
In any case, the rest of the disc is greatly impressive. Martin’s wonderful Songs of Ariel are given a virtuoso rendition that brings out every nuance and are alone worth the price of the disc. But the addition of the choral works by Martinů creates a wholly unusual and effective balance in the programming. The Four Songs of the Virgin Mary are works of tremendous subtlety, and beautifully sung: while they are peaks of the Czech choral repertoire, I do hope that performances by non-Czech choirs, especially of this standard, will bring these works into greater international circulation. The Romance of the Dandelions is also a thing of beauty, and while possibly more difficult to programme, if you have a soprano of the quality of Klaudia Kidon, you are surely guaranteed success.