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The Feast Of St. Michael And All Angels At Westminster Abbey

Release Date: 09/11/2007 
Label:  Hyperion   Catalog #: 67643   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Jean LanglaisHerbert Howells
Performer:  Robert Quinney
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

THE FEAST OF ST. MICHAEL AND ALL ANGELS James O’Donnell, cond; Westminster Abbey Ch; Robert Quinney (org) HYPERION 67643 (73:11 Text and Translation)


THE FEAST OF ST EDWARD, KING AND CONFESSOR James O’Donnell, cond; Westminster Abbey Ch; Read more Robert Quinney (org) HYPERION 67586 (75:57 Text and Translation)


Michaelmas (September 29) is celebrated here with Matins, Eucharist, and Evensong. The principal work is Langlais’s Messe Solennelle , which provides a direct comparison with the superb Westminster Cathedral choir version on the same label, made under David Hill when O’Donnell was organist. Another new version, sung by adult mixed voices and reviewed herewith, comes in a Langlais package more pointedly timed for the composer’s centennial. The inclusion of modern Catholic music in Latin is a rather recent development in Anglican cathedrals and college chapels. Similarly, Richard Dering’s Factum est silentium , only one of several familiar motets, represents the revival of Catholic music of 400 years ago, this one written long after the break with Rome. Michael Tippett’s Plebs angelica at the end of the Eucharist is an example of new Latin anthems composed for Anglican institutions. Indeed, it was an innovation when it was commissioned for St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1943. Jonathan Harvey’s Laus Deo for organ makes a splendidly triumphant conclusion to Evensong.

The rest is in English. Kenneth Leighton composed the Preces and Responses for Matins. Charles Stanford’s Psalm 148 at Matins and Walter Alcock’s Psalm 91 for Evensong are typical of the Anglican chant heard on many discs. Vaughan Williams’s Te Deum and Britten’s Jubilate are sung at Matins, while Tippett’s canticles for St. John’s Choir of Cambridge are heard at Evensong. The most interesting work of this group is A Sequence for St. Michael , for which Herbert Howells used a translation of an eighth-century sequence by Alcuin of York. It is a remarkably vivid work. Apparently this mix of styles is typical of services at the abbey nowadays. It makes a fine set of services for a single feast day.

The other disc, made a year earlier, offers a similar program of Matins, Eucharist, and Evensong. It marked the millennium of the birth of St. Edward the Confessor, whose death in 1066 led to William of Normandy’s contesting the succession of Harold. We all know who the Conqueror was and hence the outcome of the dispute. Edward had completed the Romanesque abbey church, and on October 13, 1162, the year after his canonization, his relics were enshrined there, hence the feast of the Translation of St. Edward on that day. The Missa brevis of Jonathan Harvey (b. 1939), commissioned by the Abbey in 1995, may be called the featured work on the disc, since at 11 minutes it is the longest part of the program. It is a “Missa brevis” in the same sense as Benjamin Britten’s (written for Westminster Cathedral), omitting the Credo. It is followed by Bruckner’s Os justi , properly a gradual for Doctors of the Church, but a motet of wider usefulness. The organ piece at the end of Evensong is Jeanne Demessieux’s Te Deum . Remarkably, she was the first woman ever to play the abbey organ.

The English settings are slightly different this time. William Smith made the Preces and Responses for Matins, while Psalm 132 for Matins and Psalm 99 for Evensong are by William Crotch and William Morley. Stanford’s Te Deum and Benedictus are used at Matins, while the Evensong canticles are Purcell’s Evening Service ; in addition, his O God, thou art my God concludes Matins. Another interesting contemporary work, the last piece sung at Evensong, is Philip Moore’s The King and the Robin , commissioned by the Abbey for the millennium of St. Edward. This features solos for treble and baritone

Saved for last is an account of the opening piece on the second disc, the Laudes regiae , or “Christus vincit.” We heard versions of this Carolingian chant most recently in “Heinrich II” (29:1) and “Chant Wars” (29:5), and I contributed a paper on the subject (now in press) to the Cantus Planus 2006 conference. A close study of a single chant showed that it has existed in considerable melodic variants and innumerable variations of text. The examination of 18 recordings showed 12 distinct versions of the acclamations. This one matches three previous recordings of the Worcester Antiphoner version, a somewhat more florid melody than the others; the most accessible of the three is heard on John McCarthy’s L’Oiseau-Lyre LP (60040; 15578) and CD (425729), but the only complete version, different parts of which are used by O’Donnell and McCarthy, was available only on a cassette that supplemented a Cambridge University Press book, Cantors (1979).

After eight years James O’Donnell has brought a new sound to the choir of Westminster Abbey. The boys show the greater improvement, a firmer, more solid tone, but the men also now sound like the best adult choirs, no longer afflicted with the peculiar tone that used to make the adult altos stand out uncomfortably. Soloists, both boys and men, are capable of the assignments given to them, though at the top of their range the boys retain the extreme white tone that has characterized most English boys’ choirs. The acoustics of the Gothic building are superb, and the organ makes magnificent sounds where the opportunity is presented. Both programs are excellent, and they are complementary; collectors will enjoy acquiring both of them.

FANFARE: J. F. Weber
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Works on This Recording

Messe solennelle, Op. 67 by Jean Langlais
Performer:  Robert Quinney (Organ)
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1949; France 
Sequence for St Michael by Herbert Howells
Performer:  Robert Quinney (Organ)
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 

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