Patterson Mass of the Sea; Sinfonia for Strings

Author: 
Edward Greenfield

Patterson Mass of the Sea; Sinfonia for Strings

  • Mass of the Sea
  • Sinfonia for Strings
  • Mass of the Sea
  • Sinfonia for Strings

Paul Patterson's Mass of the Sea, written for the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival in 1983, warmly and immediately communicative, makes an imaginative and attractive choice as the latest in the RPO's series of choral recordings on its own label, following on from Walton's Belshazzar's Feast and Tippett's A Child of our Time, both conducted by Andre Previn. If one has to describe it as boldly eclectic, the emphasis must be on the positive side, the boldness of idea and invention rather than derivative qualities.
Patterson's scheme in collaboration with his librettist, Tim Rose Price, was to frame the four main sections of the Mass—omitting the Credo—with apt quotations from the Bible on the subject of the sea, starting with Genesis in the Kyrie movement and darkness on the face of the deep, and ending with Revelation and ''there was no more sea'' in the Agnus Dei movement. After the Gloria, where you could expect the Credo, Patterson has a big dramatic movement on the Flood, telling not the story of Moses but of God's wrath at corruption on earth, leading through the storm to a path of salvation: ''And only the arc of the covenant shined/As a bow in the sky to save mankind''.
The interspersing of English words between the Latin of the liturgy obviously relates it to Britten's War Requiem, and the direct echoes of that work are perhaps the most striking in the piece, notably in the Flood movement, where one staccato choral passage closely recalls Britten's setting of the Dies irae and a brass passage just as clearly recalls that composer's setting of Owen's Bugles sang, also from the Dies irae. There are occasional echoes of Walton too, and more specifically of Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, both in the 7/4 rhythms of the Gloria, and again in the Agnus Dei movement, in which the first two-thirds is devoted to a powerful passage about walking on water and smiting the waters. After that the hushed close is very beautiful, with a soprano solo, tantalizingly brief, that is none the worse for getting remarkably close to the world of the chart-topping Pie Jesu from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Requiem, a piece written not long after this.
The impact of the work is tellingly brought home thanks to warmly committed playing and singing under Geoffrey Simon's direction, again fully worthy of following the Walton and Tippett performances under Previn, using the same forces. Ann Mackay's silvery soprano is most beautifully caught, and Christopher Keyte is comparably firm and clear.
The immediacy of impact and ease of comprehension may disguise the close co-ordination of Patterson's musical arguments, which are all rooted in the plainsong, Ave maris stella. Similarly, the organization in the Sinfonia for strings, written in 1982, the year before the Mass, is much tauter than you might imagine at first, though the idiom here is less traditional tonally and harmonically and less melodic. The main echoes, notably in the scurrying sonata-form first movement, are of the Bartok of the Music for strings, percussion and celesta as well as the Concerto for Orchestra, while in the Scherzando finale the scurryings have their echoes of Walton scherzos. With its slow movement leading relentlessly to a final powerful climax, and with Patterson's deft use of instrumental effects, not least in the deft pay-offs at the close of each movement, this again is a welcome addition to the recorded repertory. It is the first record devoted entirely to the music of Patterson, with the recording—vividly captured—subsidized by the Arts Council in a scheme ones hopes will be allowed to survive even in financially hard-pressed times.'

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