STRAVINSKY Mass. Cantata. 3 Sacred Choruses
This logically planned programme is beautifully sung and blessed with outstandingly vivid recorded sound. We are brought close to the performers in an attractively resonant space, the best of both worlds for religious or quasi-religious fare in which clarity matters as much as atmosphere.
Disingenuous as ever when discussing his Mass, Stravinsky declared Mozart the compositional trigger and liturgical use his goal, notwithstanding the work’s antiquarian style, vocal complexity and unorthodox instrumentation. Under the direction of Duncan Ferguson lines are more tautly drawn than in Leonard Bernstein’s unexpected English Bach Festival outing of 1977. Stravinsky, who wanted children’s voices for both the soprano and alto parts, would surely have appreciated the expertise of the Choir of St Mary’s Cathedral. The first such UK institution to allow girls to join boys as trebles, it has also had female altos singing alongside its countertenors for a decade. Nevertheless, the step-out soloists for the haunting Gloria are a boy treble and a not unattractively tremulous male alto. Only the Agnus Dei brings momentary doubts, the alert, almost mechanistic articulation precluding the pious wonder of an older, slower, blurrier time. Still, this might just be the sound Stravinsky imagined in his mind’s ear.
A recent rival, the all-adult RIAS Chamber Choir under Daniel Reuss, not only appends the problematic Cantata but also finds room for Les noces. In Edinburgh the makeweights are less ambitious. While the ubiquitous motets are crisply turned, subtler or more Russian performances can be found elsewhere. The Gesualdo ‘completions’, on the other hand, will be less familiar and collectors who set great store by such things may find Delphian’s presentation superior to Harmonia Mundi’s. There are full texts and translations, and Gabriel Jackson’s detailed notes do not dodge the composer’s political insensitivities. For the central arioso of his Cantata, Stravinsky insisted on setting the unexpurgated historic text of ‘Tomorrow shall be my dancing day’, with results both hermetic and interminable. The choice was made on the basis of aesthetics rather than anti-Semitism but the morality of such insistently abstract thinking looks doubtful as the world once again ‘turns on its dark side’. Delphian’s cover art is appropriately sombre. Strongly recommended despite a certain lack of rapture in the forthright choral delivery.