RUTTER: Gloria; BERNSTEIN: Chichester Psalms; POULENC: Four Small Prayers of St. Francis of Assisi; Litanies a la Vierge Noire; Exultate Deo; Salve Regine – Lawrence Zazzo, countertenor/ Rachel Masters, harp/ Jonathan Brown, organ/ Choir of Clare College Cambridge/ The Wallace Collection/ Timothy Brown, conductor/ Richard Pierce, organ/ Corydon Singers/ Matthew Best, conductor – Brilliant 9087, 60:04 **** [Distr. by E1/Koch]:
For the pittance of a price this release has a lot going for it. As you can see by the heading, all of the performers are top notch Brits recorded back in 1995 on other labels, in great sound. Matthew Best’s group performs only the Poulenc.
Rutter’s Gloria has become one of the most performed pieces anywhere in the world, and for good reason. The brass, timpani, percussion, and organ make a joyful noise indeed accompanying the text taken from the ordinary of the mass, each part zealously pursued by instruments associated with religious fervor, and the piece has not stopped winning converts ever since its 1974 premiere in Nebraska.
The Bernstein, written on a sabbatical as a commission for the Southern Cathedrals Festival in England, with Bernstein borrowing from discarded sources in West Side Story, The Skin of Our Teeth, and a pair of rewritten Broadway lyrics, made strange bedfellows for a Hebrew work to be performed in Anglican cathedrals. But it caught on like wildfire from its first performance in 1965, and there has been no looking back, to the chagrin of many critics at the time. This is the version for male alto, chorus, harp, and percussion, which Bernstein prepared solely for practical reasons. It does not replace the original for orchestra, but in as fine a performance as we have here it is tough to beat.
Poulenc’s Francis prayers and the other pieces on this disc are similar in style despite the 25 year separation. When Poulenc finally became religiously serious his choral music assumed a simplistic style that was quite in keeping with the rustic nature of the textual settings, and often it took on the characteristics of scaled-down Gregorian melodies with harmonies that were designed to give only basic support in the most minimal of ways. But his use of modalities and monastery-like containment of emotion makes for very supple textures and extremely spiritual and pleasant listening. The Corydon Singers are more than up to the challenge, even though I think I still prefer Robert Shaw’s Telarc recording with his Festival Singers.
Quite a bargain for those looking for some superb singing at a great price.
— Steven Ritter