Panufnik Douai Missa Brevis; Anhems; Westminster Mass
This recording of the Westminster Mass first appeared in 1999 alongside music by Howells, Pärt and Tavener – strange bed-fellows for such a vibrant and positive composer (11/99). Now Warner Classics has had the good sense to devote an entire disc to Roxanna Panufnik’s choral music and in so doing reveals what a superb composer for choir she is.
More than her deft handling of choral forces, it is Panufnik’s instinctive feel for words which stands out here. Whether those words are the Latin text of the Mass (the Douai Mass – the Westminster one uses English), the complex poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, or simple Christmas verses for Polish children, Panufnik treats them with equal respect, and while there is some delicious word-painting, particularly in the Hopkins setting, Spring, her real skill lies in an unerring ability to find, in musical language, the essence of the texts.
The passionate Douai Mass was composed in September 2001 for a mixed a cappella group and stretches choral technique to the highest professional level. In so doing, it provides a glorious showcase for Peter Broadbent and his outstanding Joyful Company of Singers, and its highly effective quasi-Orthodox chanting and almost oriental decorative lines are magnificently sung by David Rees-Jones and a sumptuous-voiced Bridget Corderoy.
In our review of the original release of the Westminster Mass, Gramophone commented that the Sanctus was ‘not the usual awe-struck worship but the happy gambolling of children before a throne decked for Christmas’. So it seems appropriate that this disc takes its title from a setting of four Polish Christmas Carols originally composed for an Ealing Children’s choir. Angels Sing! is certainly full of youthful spirit and occasional naivety but heard here performed by this exceptionally accomplished group, with Jeremy Filsell an astonishingly virtuoso accompanist, one wonders just how gifted those Ealing children must have been.
I don’t think I will be alone after hearing this disc in begging for more of Roxanna Panufnik in the catalogue.