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Track(s) taken from CDA67740

Missa brevis, Op 64

1973; commissioned by St Matthew's Church, Northampton, for the 1973 Patronal Festival; published 1974
author of text

Wells Cathedral Choir, Matthew Owens (conductor), Jonathan Vaughn (organ)
Recording details: June 2008
Wells Cathedral, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: May 2009
Total duration: 18 minutes 43 seconds

Cover artwork: Lux in tenebris (1895) by Evelyn De Morgan (1855-1919)
© The De Morgan Centre, London / Bridgeman Art Library, London


'This is one of those recordings that works its way into your spirit and enriches the soul … glorious, life-affirming and distinctive choral music in superbly polished performances' (Gramophone)

'This valuable anthology of Mathias's church music … the performance is marked by a palpable understanding of text and sustained concentration … excellent notes by Roderic Dunnett help enormously to 'place' both Mathias and his music' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Mathias fanciers who already have the Christ Church Cathedral Choir or Gloriae Dei Cantores CDs can add this newcomer without significant redundancy … conductor Matthew Owens obtains a creamily blended (but not bland) sound from his 34 singers … it is nice to hear a choral group pay as much attention to meaning and characterization as it does to sound per se. Organist Jonathan Vaughn doesn't overwhelm the choristers and is given a chance to bask in his own light in the Processional and Carillon' (International Record Review)
The Missa brevis was written in 1973 for the eightieth Patronal Festival of St Matthew’s Northampton, the church renowned for the musical initiatives of the Reverend Walter Hussey (later clerical midwife to Bernstein’s ground-breaking Chichester Psalms). The Kyrie is broad and reflective, with effective use of sinuous major and minor seconds which squeeze and embrace one another in the upper voices. The Gloria brings the men’s voices splendidly to the fore. Mathias’s fondness for repeating key phrases (‘We praise thee …’), a practice in sacred choral music harking back to the Renaissance and earlier, comes over impressively here; but the imprecations—mysterious and deliberately pitched low—furnish evidence of a darker element in Mathias’s writing, as well as an ability, like Britten, to stretch and challenge boys’ voices especially. This excitingly built movement also confirms Mathias’s unerring skill at design and shaping.

You could mistake the bracing and pithy Sanctus, with its insistent, lovely chordings, for fired-up Fauré; the semi-staccatoed organ in the Benedictus beautifully sustains the alla breve unfolding of the voices; while the Agnus Dei could be seen as the masterpiece of the whole Mass: Mathias, like his contemporary John Sanders (one-time organist of Gloucester Cathedral), had a knack of making tonality—offset by intervening silences—work wonders.

from notes by Roderic Dunnett © 2009

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