“Pange lingua: Music for Corpus Christi” – Choir of Clare College, Cambridge/ Michael Papadopoulos, organ/ Graham Ross – Harmonia mundi

“Pange lingua: Music for Corpus Christi” – Choir of Clare College, Cambridge/ Michael Papadopoulos, organ/ Graham Ross – Harmonia mundi HMM 907688, 75:19 ****:

A fine historical selection of the Corpus Christi through the centuries.

It was Thomas Aquinas who composed the hymn Pange lingua, used on the Maundy Thursday procession in the Roman Catholic Church. And Aquinas is the chief of the medieval poets who solemnized this feast, ancient in the west, and still present even in some Anglican churches, though it was abolished there in 1548 (today it is the “Day of Thanksgiving for the Institution of Holy Communion”).

Originally however, the institution of Corpus Christi as a feast resulted from work on the part of Juliana of Liège, a 13th-century Norbertine canoness (b. 1191) in Liège, Belgium. Her devotion to the Blessed Sacrament was enhanced by a vision of the Church under the appearance of the full moon having one dark spot, which signified the need for this celebration. She had the vision for the next 20 years but she kept it a secret. Finally, after petitioning the bishop, in 1246 a celebration of Corpus Christi was appointed to be held in the local diocese each year thereafter on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. Obviously, over time it spread, and spread widely.

The main dish on this disc is the Josquin des Prez Mass, one of the highlights of his catalog, and in fact one of the greatest works of the Renaissance period. It is believed this was his last effort in the genre, and he treats each line of equal importance, giving the entire work a continuity and intense contrapuntal beauty, using at most only four voices, and often sufficing with just two. It is a rapturous example of the wonders of the period, especially when performed with such zeal and love as the Clare chorister do here.

The rest of the tracks are icing on the cake, especially the Anglican selections, as it gives an idea of the permeation of this Catholic feast into the consciousness of the Anglican communion. And the spattering of modern works make for a nice contrast to the dominant medievalism of most of the program. Great singing, sound, and programming, and another winner for Clare.

Tracklist:
Bairstow: Let all mortal flesh keep silence
Byrd: Corpus Christi – Cibavit eos
des Prez: Missa Pange Lingua
Finzi: Lo, the Full, Final Sacrifice, Op. 26
Gregorian Chant: Pange lingua
Grier, F: Panis angelicus
Messiaen: O sacrum convivium
Ross, Graham: Ave verum corpus
Rue, P: O salutaris hostia
Victoria: Lauda Sion Salvatorem for 8 voices
Villette: O sacrum convivium

—Steven Ritter

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