Three living British composers who have become established as significant voices in the world of English church music feature on this splendid CD from the choir of Westminster Abbey. Each has a distinct and original voice. Jonathan Dove’s music is characterised by an almost overwhelming sense of fervency which at times (notably in the 'Gloria' of the Missa brevis), verges on the ecstatic. Judith Weir has an altogether more terse and direct voice, focusing on the detail of the text and not afraid to employ challenging harmonic language if and when the text demands it. Being not only the youngest of the three, but the one who is more heavily steeped in the legacy of English church music, Matthew Martin is obviously more conscious of the weight of tradition behind him, and shows this in the use of musical quotations, most notably the inclusion of a famous tune by Purcell in his In the Midst of Thy Temple.
Much of the music on this disc has a strong connection with Westminster Abbey. Jonathan Dove was commissioned by the Dean and Chapter of the Abbey to write They Will Rise, a setting of words from Isaiah, for the centenary of the Royal Air Force in 2018, and is appropriately uplifting, the glittering organ part indicative of the shining of the distant stars and the choral writing often moving upwards in great swoops of exuberance. Similarly, Judith Weir’s The True Light was written for a service in the Abbey marking the centenary of the ending of the First World War. This is more reflective and sombre, but with an extensive organ part which at times seems almost more significant than the choir’s contribution. Three years earlier, in 2015, Weir wrote His Mercy Endureth For Ever for the Abbey choir under James O’Donnell to sing at a service marking the 75th anniversary of the ending of the war in Europe, as well as Truly I Tell You, which was first sung in the Abbey at that year’s Commonwealth Day service. In addition to using the hymn tune 'Westminster Abbey' employed towards the end of In the Midst of Thy Temple, Matthew Martin wrote his evening canticles (the Westminster Service) for the treble voices of the Abbey choir.
Most of the other works here have a strong connection with English cathedral music, with Dove’s Missa brevis written for the annual conference of the Cathedral Organists’ Association held in Wells Cathedral in 2009 (it is worth noting that Wells Cathedral Choir has also recorded the work for Hyperion), while Martin’s setting of Latin words, Sitivit anima mea, was composed for the choir of the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Westminster (just down the road from the Abbey). O Oriens, based on the ancient Latin hymn Veni, Emmanuel, was written for St Paul’s Cathedral (a short ride on the tube from the Abbey), as was Behold now, Praise the Lord, composed in memory of the former organist of St Paul’s John Scott, who died in 2015.
These are beautifully poised and fluent performances, lovingly shaped by James O’Donnell and exquisitely captured by the Hyperion recording engineers. Highest praise, however, must go to Peter Holder, whose handling of the often extensive and always highly virtuoso organ accompaniments, is utterly, breathtakingly, marvellous.