Messe en l’honneur du Saint-Sacrement, Op.130
Quid sum miser?
Missa Festiva, Op.62
The Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge
London City Brass
Thomas Gould (violin)
Paul Provost (organ)
Recorded 10-12 July 2006 in St John’s College Chapel, Cambridge
Reviewed by: David Wordsworth
Reviewed: July 2007
CD No: HYPERION CDA67603
Duration: 73 minutes
It’s hardly unusual for ever-enterprising Hyperion to search the backwaters of the repertoire.
If the names of either of these composers are known at all it will be for their contribution to the world of organ music and indeed the organ plays a major role on all of the works on this disc. John Scott Whiteley’s interesting booklet note refers to the Belgian composer Joseph Jongen’s “compositional genius” – at least on acquaintance with his music here that might be carrying it a little far! The short motets (all for solo voice with organ and, sometimes, violin) show the influence of Gounod, Franck and perhaps Saint-Saëns and are charming as far as they go – a sort of well-behaved, fastidious Victorian parlour music which somehow seem cloying in sentimentality, however beautifully sung and played as they are here.
At least Jongen’s “Messe en l’honneur du Saint-Sacrement” has a little grit and energy, even if this is mostly due to the presence of a brass ensemble that really brings the music to life. The composer was in his mid-70s when he completed the setting in 1948, although it would seem that most of what happened musically in the first half of the twentieth century had passed him by, despite apparently studying with Richard Strauss! That would all be fine if it wasn’t for the overwhelming ‘wetness’ of the whole piece and the lack of anything personal to say at all. There are a few moments when one might think Jongen might just perhaps take flight – the middle section of the ‘Gloria’ for instance, harmonically perhaps the most interesting bars of the whole piece or the beginning of the ‘Sanctus’ with its brass fanfares and rich vocal writing – only to be banished with some perfectly competent but academic-sounding fugue!
“Missa Festiva” is by all accounts the best known of the nine Masses of Flor Peeters (1903-86), Jongen’s compatriot. As with Jongen the main influences seem to be plainchant, hymn tunes and folk-song, but this work hasn’t even got the brass ensemble to rescue it! Again, Whiteley’s programme notes speak of Peeters providing ‘Gebrauchsmusik’ for organists – well, ‘Gebrauchsmusik’ for the church seems as good a description as any for “Missa Festiva”.
David Hill is a fine choral trainer and although new to the post of Music Director at St John’s College at the time of this recording (he has since left to take charge of the BBC Singers), gets a strong, committed performance from the choir – only in the solo lines of the ‘Benedictus’ in the Jongen does the intensity of the singing flag slightly. The recording is excellent and texts and translations are included.