Hyperion Records

Messe à deux chœurs et deux orgues, Op 36
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When it first entered the repertoire at Saint-Sulpice, the Mass was well received: ‘… it has the strength of Bach and Handel, combined with the penetrating grace of Mendelssohn, the whole animated by Catholic sentiment. The Agnus Dei is one of the most delicate and inspired of Widor’s creations’, wrote one critic. When Widor was an old man, Vierne confessed that there was still no other organist who could match ‘his authority, his sense of grandeur, his imperious mastery’, and these qualities are already evident in the choral works. Vierne also described Widor’s style as ‘plus décoratif qu’émotif’, implying perhaps a lack of real substance, and a comparison of their respective settings of the Mass is instructive in this respect. Widor’s setting is designed to reinforce the splendour of the liturgy without extending it to an inconvenient length, and concision is achieved through minimal repetition of the words (indeed, the Benedictus verges on the perfunctory). The work impresses by its sheer magnificence, but Vierne’s Messe Solennelle is undoubtedly of greater musical interest.

from notes by David Gammie © 1997

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