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Hyperion Records

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Ely Cathedral (detail) by Thomas Lound (1802-1861)
Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67629
Recording details: January 2007
Ely Cathedral, United Kingdom
Produced by Adrian Peacock
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: October 2007
Total duration: 5 minutes 1 seconds

'Peace and goodwill would be the order of the day if Father Christmas could hand out to all and sundry copies of Polyphony's recording of the Bruckner's Mass in E minor. No disc I've heard this year comes near it for sheer beauty … Polyphony, whose sound is … smoothly rounded, fully blended and sumptuous … Layton produces such gorgeous sounds from his singers that the overall listening experience is infinitely satisfying … the seven unaccompanied motets are absolute gems. An ethereal account of Ave Maria has a breadth and grandeur which belies its short time-span; as the vocal lines crowd in on each other, the effect is nothing short of electrifying. And popular as it is, if there has to be a 'definitive' interpretation on disc of Locus iste, this has to be it. Put it simply, we're unlikely to hear choral singing as fine as this for a good few years to come' (Gramophone)

'This really excellent offering from Polyphony … Polyphony trumps all others for beauty of tone … in the Benedictus, too, musical sense arises from transparency and intelligent phrasing … the performances of the motets are excellent, too, painting nuanced pictures of these vocally and philosophically stratospheric pieces' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Polyphony and the Britten Sinfonia catch the music's starkness, exaltation and mysticism as movingly as I have heard. This is a searching performance, with soft singing of awed intensity, but also an unusually dramatic one. Stephen Layton never allows Bruckner's music, even at its most unearthly, to become becalmed; and he builds climaxes of molten intensity in, say, the Sanctus, or the fervent motet Christus factus est. A glorious disc of music that strives for, and ultimately attains, a state of transcendent peace' (The Daily Telegraph)

'I wasn’t prepared for the excellence of this program … the musicianship is so sophisticated, so meticulous that it’s impossible not to get swept up in what the singers are doing … what really captures my attention is the spectrum of vocal colors these singers create in pianissimo range … Maestro Layton’s performances inspire the soul even as they break the heart with their intense beauty' (American Record Guide)

'This album finds the composer secure in his spiritual home, serving God in music transcendent. Stephen Layton's reading of the Second Mass articulates sublime, prayer-like qualities routinely overlooked and underplayed by others. The approach … is revelatory, rich in contrasts, fervent outbursts and symphonic tension … an outstanding release' (Classic FM Magazine)

'The performance is strong and characterful: beautifully sung by Polyphony and subtly, imaginatively accompanied by the Britten Sinfonia's wind band … the group sing with ravishing, lustrous tone throughout and phrase and colour magnificently. Their dynamic and dramatic range is great and tension is continually racked up under the baton of Stephen Layton, though never at the expense of vocal purity, profundity of expression or dignity of delivery' (MusicOHM.com)

Vexilla regis
composer
completed in 1892; 4vv; Phrygian Mode
author of text

Other recordings available for download
Corydon Singers, Matthew Best (conductor)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Bruckner’s last church composition, Vexilla regis, dates from 1892, four years before the composer’s death, when the ailing Bruckner was struggling to complete his ninth and last symphony. The last thing Bruckner needed at such a time was distraction, yet he insisted that the urge to compose Vexilla regis came ‘straight from the heart’. The use of the old church ‘Phrygian Mode’ (the white-note scale on the piano beginning on E) harks back to Bruckner’s not uncritical interest in the aims of the Cecilian Movement; but the purity of the mode is soon coloured by breathtaking chromatic shifts, and the security of E as the tonal centre is only just recaptured at the end of each verse. The aspiring cadential figure at the word ‘prodeunt’ (‘advance’) near the start echoes Wagner’s use of the old Lutheran ‘Dresden Amen’ in his last opera Parsifal, whose first performance in 1882 had made an enormous impression on Bruckner. (A similar echo can be heard on strings alone near the start of the Adagio of the ninth symphony.)

from notes by Stephen Johnson © 2007


Other albums featuring this work
'Bruckner: Motets' (CDA66062)
Bruckner: Motets

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