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Jongen: Mass For Choir, Organ And Brass; Peeters / Hill

Release Date: 05/08/2007 
Label:  Hyperion   Catalog #: 67603   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Joseph JongenFlor Peeters
Performer:  Thomas GouldPaul Provost
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College ChoirLondon City Brass
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

JONGEN Messe en l’honneur du Saint-Sacrement. Deus Abraham. Pie Jesu. Quid sum miser? PEETERS Missa festiva David Hill, cond; St. John’s College Ch; London City Brass; Paul Provost (org) HYPERION 67603 (72:50 Text and Translation)

The Belgian composer, Joseph Jongen (1873–1953), left behind a substantial and diverse corpus, mostly for stage and orchestra, not much heard outside of northwestern Europe these days. Read more Sacred music played a relatively small part in his compositional output. The present Mass has a somewhat confusing history. It was written in 1945 without the Credo, and was first performed that way in Liège in 1946 on the festal occasion of its title. The Credo, never performed in Jongen’s lifetime, came in 1948, and was promptly thereafter lost, but recovered in 1989–90 by John Scott Whiteley and Tom Cunningham. Jongen apparently added the brass parts later to everything but the Credo. (Though not credited, I think the brass parts for that movement here have been constructed by Whiteley.)

This is a large-scale festive Mass for incidental soloists, choir, organ, and brass, and it was first performed in such a setting. Whiteley (who provides the fine annotations to this recording) is of the opinion, however, that it was really intended as a concert mass. Though the first performance used a choir of 120, the scoring is subtle enough not to overwhelm a choir of 30, as here. The music is firmly in the tonal tradition (with occasional evidence that Jongen has heard other sounds, as well), but it is good to discover that he has his own voice: it is not warmed-over Ravel, Strauss, or Vaughan Williams. That said, it does not have the strong profile of those masters, either.

The choir is in fine fettle here: the sound is focused and well integrated top to bottom and it can bring forth huge climaxes and truly soft passagework equally well. With such forces at his disposal, Hill can bring out the considerable nuances in the piece. It is good to have this fine performance of a rare piece, and the recording is exemplary. Shortly after the recovery of the Credo, Cunningham led a performance by the Brussels Choral Society, which appeared on the Belgian label, Pavane (7242).

Three short solo motets bring us to Flor Peeters’s (1903–86) well-known Missa festiva (1947). This is a much more modest affair, with none of the exuberance of Jongen’s Mass and of more manageable proportions. Peters was more interested than Jongen in relating his church music to the historic sacred tradition without actually imitating it. This Mass has many of Peeters’s trademarks: wide, open chords, parallel octaves, occasional brief dissonances, and odd chord progressions to remind us we are in the 20th century—and it is largely homophonic. At first hearing, this music will strike the listener as pretty much all of a piece, but my own experience is that, without the heaven-storming affirmation Jongen brings to the texts, it actually works quite well in its place in a service. I cannot imagine it being better done than here.

FANFARE: Alan Swanson
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Works on This Recording

Mass, Op. 130 by Joseph Jongen
Performer:  Thomas Gould (Violin), Paul Provost (Organ)
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir,  London City Brass
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1946; Belgium 
Missa Festiva, Op. 62 by Flor Peeters
Performer:  Thomas Gould (Violin), Paul Provost (Organ)
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir,  London City Brass
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1947; Belgium 

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