The Missa brevis
was written in 1973 for the eightieth Patronal Festival of St Matthew’s Northampton, the church renowned for the musical initiatives of the Reverend Walter Hussey (later clerical midwife to Bernstein’s ground-breaking Chichester Psalms
). The Kyrie is broad and reflective, with effective use of sinuous major and minor seconds which squeeze and embrace one another in the upper voices. The Gloria brings the men’s voices splendidly to the fore. Mathias’s fondness for repeating key phrases (‘We praise thee …’), a practice in sacred choral music harking back to the Renaissance and earlier, comes over impressively here; but the imprecations—mysterious and deliberately pitched low—furnish evidence of a darker element in Mathias’s writing, as well as an ability, like Britten, to stretch and challenge boys’ voices especially. This excitingly built movement also confirms Mathias’s unerring skill at design and shaping.
You could mistake the bracing and pithy Sanctus, with its insistent, lovely chordings, for fired-up Fauré; the semi-staccatoed organ in the Benedictus beautifully sustains the alla breve unfolding of the voices; while the Agnus Dei could be seen as the masterpiece of the whole Mass: Mathias, like his contemporary John Sanders (one-time organist of Gloucester Cathedral), had a knack of making tonality—offset by intervening silences—work wonders.
from notes by Roderic Dunnett © 2009