O magnum mysterium
Blazen muzh, Op.37
O magnum mysterium
Song for Athene
Friede auf Erden, Op.13
To be sung of a summer night on the water
Elgar arr. Cameron
Lux Aeterna (Nimrod)
Handel and Haydn Society Chorus
Recorded in July 2003 at the Church of the Redeemer, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
Reviewed by: Michael Allen
Reviewed: May 2004
CD No: AVIE AV 0039
Duration: 65 minutes
Yet another compilation album, this time from a leading American choir under, to my mind at least, an underrated British conductor. The music is all of a sacred nature, with one exception – the short Delius piece, which in any case should be sung with its companion and sits rather oddly towards the end of the programme. The other odd exception is Victoria’s setting of “O magnum mysterium”, written in the late 16th-century, which seems out of place in an otherwise 20th-century context.
I think that John Tavener’s infamous Song for Athene is rather a beautiful piece, but I would welcome a compilation that didn’t include it. We tend not to come across Randall Thompson’s Alleluia as frequently as those in the US do, it’s a beautiful piece, so too Barber’s Agnus Dei (the same music as his famous Adagio for Strings); and Schoenberg’s wonderful Friede auf Erden is a not inconsiderable challenge even to a professional choir, and the Handel and Haydn Society Chorus is both professional and America’s oldest choir, which gave the American premieres of the B minor Mass, Messiah, and The Creation.
The only quibble from the point of view of programming, even for those who enjoy this sort of disc, is having the words of the “Lux Aeterna” forced upon ‘Nimrod’ from Elgar’s Enigma Variations – It’s just awful and tasteless – Elgar would surely have hated it. It reduces great music and significant words to nothing more than a trite lollipop.
As to the performances – words are always clear and pacing and climaxes are admirable. Perhaps a wider dynamic range would have been nice – I am not convinced that I hear a real pianissimo, even at the end of Gorecki’s piece, which I seem to remember is marked with several ps. The fortes are sometimes a little forced, which has a detrimental effect on pitch, but the choir at least believes in what it is singing, which is by no means always the case, rising bravely to the challenges of the Schoenberg – the poor tenors especially are pushed to their limits, but its such a welcome change to hear moving parts rather than the slow moving chordal progressions that make up the rest of the music on this CD.
If this sort of disc is your ‘bag’, it may well be worth seeking out.