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Hyperion Records

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St John the Evangelist (from the St Thomas altarpiece) by Pedro Burruguete (c1450-1504)
Convent of St Thomas, Avila / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDH55407
Recording details: February 1999
Westminster Cathedral, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Release date: August 1999
Total duration: 27 minutes 26 seconds

'For sheer beauty of sound this recording is unsurpassed' (Gramophone)

'Missa Ecce ego Johannes bristles with enough energy to power the National Grid and the breathtaking authority, drive and power few other groups can emulate brings them thrillingly close to religious ecstasy' (Choir & Organ)

'Joyous performances' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Even among the Westminster Cathedral Choir's superb records this disc stands out. Perfect chording and ensemble, natural and musical phrasing, spot-on intonation and a glorious tonal blend, make this issue one to treasure' (The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs)

'Under James O'Donnell, Westminster Cathedral Choir has developed into what many regard as the nation's finest church choir. This release justifies that reputation. Palestrina's music emerges as more than the stuff of academic legend. There's a vibrancy in the opening Laudate pueri, while Peccantem me quotidie and Tribulationes civitatum both touch deep emotions, and the Mass Ecce ego Johannes radiates noble majesty. We are reminded that Palestrina was a highly individual composer, and every bit as Italian as, say, Monteverdi' (The Sunday Times)

'The listener can rejoice in the sumptuousness of the Westminster Cathedral sound with none of the anxiety over niggling imperfections that one suffers when hearing almost any other ensemble. The combination of accuracy with mastery of style is unrivalled' (Gramophone Early Music)

'Yet another superb disc from Westminster Cathedral … many consider not only the finest cathedral choir in Britain, but one of the best in the world. The sound is quite glorious' (Goldberg)

'This work could not be better sung than, as here, by the choir of Westminster Cathedral' (Contemporary Review)

Missa Ecce ego Johannes
6vv; model unknown
author of text
Ordinary of the Mass

Kyrie  [4'47] GreekEnglish
Gloria  [4'49] LatinEnglish
Credo  [7'37] LatinEnglish

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The six-voice Missa Ecce ego Johannes is based on an unknown model. The text ‘Ecce ego Johannes’, from the Book of Revelation, is used for the chapter (capitulum) at Vespers on All Saints’ Day, and it appears elsewhere (in the Sarum books, for example) as an antiphon at Matins for the same feast. The character of Palestrina’s setting, however, suggests that it might well have been based on a polyphonic model. It is a powerful, confident work, something evident from the very first notes of the Kyrie. As with the Missa Papae Marcelli, it is a model of Palestrinian word-setting. There is a constant, subtle use of homophonic writing throughout which gives it tremendous rhetorical power. A good example is the reflective chordal opening of the second Kyrie, which not only contrasts with the more flowing, transparent textures of the Christe before it, but gives rise to imitative writing, out of which arises the climactic second phrase of the cantus, soaring up the octave.

The Gloria and Credo are customarily characterized by more declamatory writing on account of the length of their texts. In this case, so interwoven is the use of homophony and imitation in the various subdivisions of the choral ensemble that it is hard to say where one ends and the other begins. Thus it is that the exultant ascending scales at ‘rex caelestis’ in the Gloria arise completely naturally out of the more static chordal writing preceding them, and the same is true of the contrapuntal writing following the block chordal ‘Domine Deus’. There is a marvellous flowering, using a descending scalic motif, at the final phrase of the Gloria, like an illuminated initial placed at the end of a text rather than at the beginning. Such scalic figures also appear in order to decorate the otherwise straightforward cadences at ‘et incarnatus est’ and ‘et homo factus est’ in the Credo, and the reduced-scoring ‘Crucifixus’ develops them further. The triple-time of the ‘Et in Spiritum Sanctum’ is a real surprise after such delicate tracery, though this lasts only until ‘Et unam sanctam’.

The Sanctus is powerful and majestic; again descending and ascending scalic figures feature prominently, and they give a special colour to this section when doubled in thirds, sixths or tenths, as at ‘et terra’, or at several places in the substantial Benedictus. Less effusive melodically, the Agnus Dei is triumphant and thrilling. The opening of the second recalls the beginning of the second Kyrie.

from notes by Ivan Moody © 1999

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