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Notable for listeners is the impact of vocal divisions in the setting of Psalm 128 and also in the Responses. The psalm chant combines plangent richness with haunting introspection by oscillating freely between chords of six notes and (through unison doubling) just three. After three iterations of the double chant (covering six verses), the psalm’s concluding seventh verse necessitates modified treatment through a single chant. Mäntyjärvi heightens the effect here through upward transposition of the chant’s opening by a whole tone. For the Gloria, the double chant returns at its original pitch. Mäntyjärvi’s palette includes frequent dividing of the basses, combined with low-lying bass registers evocative of music from the Russian Orthodox liturgy. The impact on ears attuned mainly to the Anglican tradition is vivid, fresh and unexpected, especially when complemented by elliptical ‘false-relation’ harmonies espoused in the past by free atonalists such as the Swiss composer Frank Martin (1890-1974). Naturally, the more extended items are the canticle settings and the anthem. Ever the pragmatist, however, Mäntyjärvi heeds the diurnal pressures on rehearsal time for Evensong. The brief introit is a further Ave Maria setting, unexpectedly fleet of foot owing largely to the almost incessant quaver movement of its bass line. Creating a mood of expectancy, this integrates the music into Mäntyjärvi’s conception of the service as a complete, specific occasion.
The Magnificat is contemplative and ethereal, characterized by simplification of the rhythmic momentum. Similarly, the occasional challenge of unexpected harmonic directions (for example, at the phrase ‘the rich he hath sent empty away’) is mitigated by a high proportion of stepwise melodic motion, albeit without any hint of imaginative constraint. Here, and in the Nunc dimittis, one notes the insight of a composer who is a practising singer and conductor, able to conjure myriad nuances and elevations of his verbal text through subtle variations in the deployment of his musical materials. The end of the Nunc dimittis is marked by a startling bass descent which seems to reach the ocean floor as it settles on a ‘bottom’ A flat. This is given as an alternative ending in the score—but the composer was surprised to find no fewer than four Trinity basses equal to the task!
O lux beata Trinitas revisits the Phrygian modality favoured by the composer, with the flattened second note of its scale casting doubt that the sustained bass pedal octave beneath it is truly the tonal centre of gravity. This pedal note continues uninterrupted until liberation occurs with the words ‘Te mane laudum carmine, / Te deprecemur vespere’, whereupon the harmony acquires a new mobility, gradually blossoming forth. The pedal returns in the closing stages. Austere plainchant-like passages are offset by ethereal commentary from the upper parts, creating an impression of simultaneous earthbound and heavenly music.
from notes by Francis Pott © 2020