David Thorne
Cathedral Music
November 2015

This recording from Westminster Abbey offers a diverse range of musical styles. Duruflé’s setting of the requiem is performed in the version for choir and small orchestra, ideal for the choral forces. The choir is on top form throughout and the orchestral playing superb. The organ part is integral to the score, and Robert Quinney’s playing is outstanding, with every nuance observed to the letter. The performance reflects James O’Donnell’s seemingly intuitive approach to Duruflé’s writing. Roderick Williams’ dramatic account of the score and Christina Rice’s passionate interpretation of the Pie Jesu are both highly moving. The Hyperion recording is skilfully engineered. Readers who already possess Matthew Best’s performance with the Corydon Singers will notice some subtle differences in that O’Donnell occasionally uses the trebles to sing in the alto part. The timbre of the two treblepart writing is most effective in the Christes, adding poignancy in a most moving interpretation of the work. Vaughan Williams’ Lord, thou hast been our refuge is less well known. It is rare to encounter such a convincing and unified performance of this rather fragmented piece. The reflective and pianissimo unison line at the beginning, sung by a semi-chorus against the hymn ‘O God our help in ages past’ performed by the main chorus, is as passionate here as in the triumphant recapitulation when the material is heard fortissimo with the addition of an obbligato trumpet part played by Paul Archibald.

Philip Moore’s prolific and profound writing is beginning to receive wide acclaim, and the three pieces enrich Bonhoeffer’s text to great effect. The Westminster choir gives a passionate reading of Take him, earth where the juxtaposition of Howells’ tender melodic lines contrasts starkly with his tense harmonic language. These tracks were recorded in the more intimate setting of St Alban’s, Holborn. Tavener’s The peace that surpasseth understanding was commissioned by the Abbey in 2009 to commemorate the fallen in both World Wars. This is a powerful performance and the four massive organ chords towards the end, representing the Four Angels before the Throne of God, give a wonderful sense of theatre within the resonance of the Abbey’s acoustics. There is no shortage of substantial works on this disc, and I am happy to suggest that readers who enjoy 20th-century choral music should make it a priority to add this to their library.