Missa Brevis

French choristers are fresh and unaffected in five short Masses

Author: 
Malcolm Riley

Missa Brevis

  • Missa à trois voix
  • Missa Cornelia
  • Messe brève
  • Missa brevis
  • Messe basse

Created in 2006 by the English choral director Mark Opstad, the Maîtrise de Toulouse offers a specialist musical education to young choristers aged 11‑15. The mixed-gender group of 21 singers recorded here is blessed with a fresh, clear, unaffected tone, blending effortlessly, especially in Caplet’s unaccompanied three-voice Mass, with its soaring, arched phrases, which float beautifully in the spacious acoustic of Toulouse’s neo-Gothic Temple du Salin.

Of the two other French composers represented here, Delibes’s simple but charming Messe brève is certainly the equal to Fauré’s better-known though more limpid and richly harmonised Messe basse. The latter suffers occasionally from some slightly flat intonation despite consistently excellent and solidly helpful support from organist William Whitehead. A special mention should also go to soprano soloist Anaïs Rabary who sings with an affecting maturity and musical sensitivity beyond her years.

The two English works on the disc are Britten’s oft-sung Missa brevis, composed in 1959 for George Malcolm and his Westminster Cathedral choirboys, and Kenneth Leighton’s unaccountably previously unrecorded Missa Cornelia of 1980. These young French singers cope admirably with Leighton’s English text, with only one or two slightly mangled vowels, and manage to bring out all the dramatic nuances of the Britten, particularly in the striking Agnus Dei.

As part of a recent resurgence of interest in youth choral singing across France, this timely disc serves as an important and worthwhile stepping-stone.

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