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Jesus College Service, Op 53

composer
commission by and first performed at Jesus College, Cambridge, on the occasion of the dedication of the new organ on 6 March 1971; published 1973
author of text
Magnificat: Luke 1: 46-55; Nunc dimittis: Luke 2: 29-32

 
A berceuse pattern beautifully decorates the words ‘For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden’ in the set of Evening Canticles, given their first performance at Jesus College, Cambridge, on 6 March 1971 (Mathias wrote another set, the St David’s Service, for Kenneth Bowen’s London choir, in 1991). What is also interesting as the Magnificat moves towards its close is that it assumes a modal character akin to that of Peter Maxwell Davies. Such a similarity may be passing and coincidental, or salient and fundamental. Here it reflects how Mathias, veering towards French-tinged whole-tone scales, and Maxwell Davies, constantly drawn to ‘taming’ the once-outlawed diminished fifth (or augmented fourth), find themselves generating patterns of a not dissimilar modal quality. The effect here is superb.

There is sprightly urgency and bright colouring in much of Mathias’s music: patently so in the anguishedly repeating ‘for ever’ at the Magnificat’s close. Yet such is Mathias’s musical dexterity and imagination that he is always able to spring a surprise, to tease out (à la Haydn) an unexpected twist, or evolve something unanticipated and magical out of an essentially simple idea. This is perfectly illustrated by the unforeseen breadth of the doxology, ‘Glory be to the Father’: an impressive final envoi whose nobilmente quality recalls the Evening Canticles by the English composer Edmund Rubbra. By contrast, the organum-like hushed opening of the Nunc dimittis veers between Orthodox-like simplicity and the shrewd inventiveness of Britten: someone who knew all too well how to write for boys’ (or indeed girls’) voices.

from notes by Roderic Dunnett 2009

Recordings

Mathias: Choral Music
CDA67740

Details

Canticle 1: Magnificat  My soul doth magnify the Lord
Track 2 on CDA67740 [4'12]
Canticle 2: Nunc dimittis  Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace
Track 3 on CDA67740 [3'06]

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