This disc has been advertised as Hyperion's Record of the Month for May 2005, and well it might be. Not only is its playing time almost as long as a two-disc album, but the musical content is as beautiful and original as anything that I have heard during the past months. Ralph Vaughan Williams needs no introduction, but Judith Bingham (b. 1952) is altogether a completely new name to me. Her Mass is a truly mature work, where for most of the time organ and voices are of equal importance, and with the liturgy being uppermost in Bingham's mind, she manages to compose a carefully structured work full of thought-provoking music which fits perfectly into the artistic modes of the 21st century. The Mass omits the Credo and takes as its central point, the Holy Eucharist as narrated in the story of Christ's meeting with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. From what I can gather, this work has not had its première yet, and this is the only recording available. This is a real pity as this Mass deserves much better recognition apart from the British Composer Award for Liturgical Music.
The other principal work on this disc is Vaughan Williams' Mass in G minor composed in 1922, considered as the first English 'setting' Mass since the 16th Century and the time of Tallis and Byrd. In its day, this work was a composition of unique importance, it being a mixture of old and modern styles, distinctly English and perfectly suited for the Liturgy. After its première in 1923, its popularity has not only grown ever since, but now it is practically in every English Choir's repertoire.
One can listen to four other short choral works by Vaughan Williams on which lack of space bars me from further comments (refer to the superb notes by Andrew Carwood). The Choir of Westminster Cathedral responds with a limpid beauty to the direction of Martin Baker whose patient enthusiasm is very evident in the ecstatic end-product. Robert Quinney's organ support is vivid, virtuosic and when needed it is also contemplative. This is definitely one of my records of the year.
Copyright © 2005, Gerald Fenech