Hyperion Records

Missa brevis
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In 1995 the Dean and Chapter commissioned the distinguished contemporary English composer Jonathan Harvey to compose a Missa brevis. It is a striking and concentrated setting of the Ordinary of the Mass (that is, the invariable texts of the Communion service) that draws imaginatively on contemporary techniques and idioms, and yet is expressly intended to be sung liturgically. Harvey explains that the three main musical characteristics in the work can be taken to represent the glory of God (as in the opening section of the Gloria), the compassion of Jesus (the plaintive and insistent music of the Kyrie), and human suffering (parts of the Agnus Dei). A particularly interesting feature of the Gloria is Harvey’s use of shouted text alongside the sung parts. In the final, climactic section the choir seems to disintegrate into chaos as all the voices sing the music in their own time, like a babble of praise, coming together again only for the final phrase. The Sanctus begins with a still, low-set A major chord (perhaps inspired by some early Tudor Masses); at each repetition of the word ‘Sanctus’ Harvey progressively complicates the chord with added dissonant notes. The ‘Dominus Deus’ section builds up from a whisper of low voices to a striking, ringing A major ‘Hosanna’; like the opening ‘Sanctus’, this is immediately enriched with dissonant harmonies. An imposing and angular ‘Benedictus’ for solo bass follows, almost interrupted by the final ‘Hosanna’. The Agnus Dei expressively refers to music from the foregoing movements, thus drawing the Mass as a whole to a most satisfying close.

from notes by James O'Donnell © 2006

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