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Videte miraculum

composer
author of text
Responsory at First Vespers, Feast of the Purification (Candlemas)
author of text

 
Chapter Two of the cycle takes us to the start of Christ’s life. This time the model is Tallis’s six-part Videte miraculum, the Respond for the Feast of The Presentation of Christ in the Temple. Jesus was presented to the old man Simeon who responded with the text known as Nunc dimittis: 'Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation.' In the low, dark closing textures of the piece one hears the old man at the end of his life. This contrasts with the bright, shining new hope of the Christ Child elsewhere in the work. To the Latin text which Tallis had set, Finnissy adds an English text by John Donne. This troped text continues our exploration of the difference between God’s perception of Time and our own:

Ere by the spheares time was created thou wast in his minde

Finnissy shares with Tallis a particular gift for melodic beauty, of great benefit to a contrapuntalist.

When studying Tallis, it is instructive to look at the number of voice parts. For example, at the start of the Gloria of his Missa Salve intemerata he begins with 2 parts, then 3, 4 and finally 5. At the start of Videte miraculum Finnissy likewise builds up from 2 to 6 voices. By the time the 6th part enters (the bass part at circa 0’50”) there is an almost overwhelming sensuousness to the sonority. In Tallis, the number of voices primarily affects the texture, whereas in Finnissy, the addition of voice parts has more harmonic impact because the latter composer is happy to have more pitch classes sounding at once. One more chocolate, and another, and another …! Again, the sheer beauty of sound reminds me of Feldman. It also brings to my mind Harrison Birtwistle’s Dinah and Nick’s Love Song, written at a time when the composer was much influenced by Feldman in Buffalo, NY.

At the start of Videte miraculum I think of light shining through a moving glass prism; lots of different faces glint kaleidoscopically with ever-changing colours in shifting directions. Sometimes you catch a glimpse of a particular pattern—but this is a fleeting vision which is soon gone; you wonder whether you had imagined it. By chance we recorded the motet on exactly the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, and this opening music seems to float around as though in space without gravity. Different versions of ‘floating’ follow in such works as the cantata and Plebs angelica. Following this initial shimmery miraculousness, as one friend described it to me, at the first English-texted section there is suddenly a prophetically heavier, more earthly texture—Jesus is to be weighed down by bearing the sins of the world. The high texture of the opening contrasts with the low tessitura of the ending—God comes down to earth from heaven. The final bass solo unfolds melismatically with wonderfully evocative word-painting.

from notes by Andrew Nethsingha © 2020

Recordings

Finnissy: Pious Anthems & Voluntaries
Studio Master: SIGCD624Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available

Details

Track 3 on SIGCD624 CD1 [8'25] Download only

Track-specific metadata for SIGCD624 disc 1 track 3

Artists
ISRC
GB-LLH-20-62403
Duration
8'25
Recording date
18 July 2019
Recording venue
St John's College Chapel, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Chris Hazell
Recording engineer
Simon Eadon
Hyperion usage
  1. Finnissy: Pious Anthems & Voluntaries (SIGCD624)
    Disc 1 Track 3
    Release date: August 2020
    Download only
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