PITTS Missa Unitatis
As director of Tonus Peregrinus, Antony Pitts’s spiritually imbued sacred settings have evolved hand in hand with his vocal ensemble over the years, as heard on recordings such as ‘Alpha and Omega’ (Hyperion) and the modern oratorio Jerusalem-Yerushalayim (1equalmusic). However, running in parallel with his work with Tonus Peregrinus have been several projects with other groups, including the Missa Unitatis (‘Mass of Unity’).
This work’s origins go back to 2008, when Pitts was commissioned to write a Mass setting for Stratton Bull’s vocal group Cappella Pratensis. The composer soon struck on the idea of creating a work that could be performed either in whole or in part for single or double choir.
The two-choir version heard here unites Cappella Pratensis with the Netherlands Chamber Choir under Stephen Layton. The result is a fascinating, multi-layered work that blends chant, polychoral elements and medieval and Renaissance polyphony with techniques drawn from more recent neo-tonal and minimalist styles.
The opening Kyrie starts in relatively straightforward fashion, with each choir alternating short modal statements in a manner resembling a kind of medieval tuning meditation. Far more complex layers are overlaid in the Gloria, which ends with the simultaneous combination of up to 16 individual lines using complex rhythmic and metrical juxtapositions. A rhythmically charged Credo leads to more homophonic statements in the Sanctus and Benedictus, while the concluding Agnus Dei radiates a quiet luminescence.
My only criticism is that we don’t hear this clearly on the recording. Pitts’s Mass settings are dotted throughout and interspersed with other music, ranging from Jean Mouton and Clemens non Papa to Nico Muhly’s excellent Spiral Mass. This piecemeal presentation of Pitts’s Mass rather takes away from the sense of unity conveyed by the work’s title. That said, the combined forces of the Cappella Pratensis and Nederlands Kamerkoor impart plenty of zip and energy to these performances, to which should also be added impressive contributions by the Netherlands Female Youth Choir in music by Poulenc, Verdi and Ēriks Ešenvalds.