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The Feast Of The Ascension At Westminster Abbey


Release Date: 05/13/2008 
Label:  Hyperion   Catalog #: 67680   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Ralph Vaughan WilliamsGerald FinziCharles Villiers StanfordJoseph Barnby,   ... 
Performer:  Robert QuinneyJacob EwensAshley GroteJulian [Bass Voice] Empett,   ... 
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 6 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Recordings of cathedral services often prove disappointing as concert programs because, well, that's not what the sequence of service music, psalms, responses, and anthems are for. The music has a specific purpose to come before or after spoken prayers, scripture readings, sermon, and so forth and thus doesn't always lend itself to a satisfying, uninterrupted musical listening experience. If you want a recording of great cathedral anthems or more substantial service music such as a Mass or Magnificat, you might not want the program interrupted by chanted psalms or responses that have little or no purpose as "performance" pieces. Well, if you're concerned about such things, you need not worry in the case of this magnificent--and Read more magnificently recorded--program from Westminster Abbey.

Divided into three sections--Matins; Eucharist; Evensong--the disc offers intelligently chosen repertoire that maximizes the content, context, and power of each service in sheer musical terms. There's certainly no filler here--not even the chanted service music, which not only flows easily from its preceding work and into the next, but also makes a fine impression on its own, especially the psalms by Barnby (No. 24) and Macfarren (No. 93), two of the more glorious and justifiably well-loved settings of these texts.

And speaking of glorious: We also hear resounding renditions of Finzi's God is gone up, Britten's Festival Te Deum in E (which we don't hear often enough!), and Vaughan Williams' O clap your hands. Organist Robert Quinney is an important--make that vital--part of these proceedings, and he's an extraordinary musician whose solo Toccata--a nearly 10-minute tour de force by Francis Pott that closes the disc--is an unforgettable highlight.

Of course, this venerable choir gives every reason for us to sit back and enjoy, from the very solid and pleasingly round brightness of the trebles to the strong, full-bodied lower voices and overall well-balanced ensemble. As we might expect from a choir so used to singing this repertoire, so well-versed in its purpose and style, there's not a weak moment in the singing. Among the choral works, particular mention must go to the Walton "Chichester Service" Mag and Nunc and to Patrick Gowers' Ascension anthem Viri Galilaei, the latter a substantial and original masterpiece that everyone who loves choral music must possess. (Many listeners will remember Gowers as the composer of the marvelous music for the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes TV series; this work, which already has received several fine recordings, shows his command of and obvious comfort with an entirely different genre.)

Whenever you record music like this in a cathedral acoustic, you almost inevitably sacrifice something in specifics of ensemble clarity; but you also gain the impressive sensation of the enormous space that gives the sound its intended larger-than-life presence. You can help matters by choosing the right repertoire, works designed for such spaces, and that's what happens here (the Stanford Caelos ascendit hodie being the most "detail-challenged"--but then, it always is), and you quickly appreciate how the engineers have placed us relative to the choir for the best listening perspective, both for antiphonal passages and for full ensemble with organ. I have to say, though, that if you love the organ, you will have no complaints at all regarding its sound--it's simply awesome!

--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1. O clap your hands by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Performer:  Robert Quinney (Organ)
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1921; England 
Length: 3 Minutes 8 Secs. 
2. Anthems (3), Op. 27: no 2, God is gone up by Gerald Finzi
Performer:  Robert Quinney (Organ)
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1951; England 
Length: 4 Minutes 37 Secs. 
3. Motets (3), Op. 38: no 2, Coelos ascendit hodie by Charles Villiers Stanford
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: Romantic 
Written: by 1905; England 
Length: 2 Minutes 3 Secs. 
4. The earth is the Lord's by Joseph Barnby
Performer:  Robert Quinney (Organ)
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: Romantic 
Written: 19th Century; England 
Length: 2 Minutes 45 Secs. 
5. Festival Te Deum in E major, Op. 32 by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Robert Quinney (Organ), Jacob Ewens (Treble)
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944; England 
Length: 6 Minutes 11 Secs. 
6. Psalms of David, Op. 2: Jauchzet dem Herren, SWV 36 by Heinrich Schütz
Performer:  Ashley Grote (Organ)
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1619; Germany 
Length: 4 Minutes 15 Secs. 
7. Cantiones sacrae, pro praecipuis festis totius anni et communi sanctorum: Ascendit Deus by Peter Philips
Performer:  Ashley Grote (Organ)
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: Renaissance 
Written: by 1612; Brussels, Belgium 
Length: 2 Minutes 44 Secs. 
8. The Lord is King by Macfarren, George, Sir
Performer:  Robert Quinney (Organ)
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: Romantic 
Written: England 
Length: 1 Minutes 48 Secs. 
9. Viri Galilæi by Patrick Gowers
Performer:  Julian [Bass Voice] Empett (Bass), Ashley Grote (Organ), Robert Quinney (Organ),
Julian Stocker (Tenor)
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 7 Minutes 30 Secs. 
10. Toccata by Francis Pott
Performer:  Robert Quinney (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 9 Minutes 36 Secs. 
11. Preces and Responses by Bernard Rose
Performer:  Francis Brett (Cantor)
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
Length: 1 Minutes 12 Secs. 
12. Versicles and Responses by Bernard Rose
Performer:  Francis Brett (Cantor)
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
Length: 5 Minutes 54 Secs. 
13. Missa brevis by Sir William Walton
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1966; England 
Length: 7 Minutes 8 Secs. 
14. Magnificat by Sir William Walton
Performer:  Jacob Ewens (Treble), Robert Quinney (Organ), Warren Trevelyan-Jones (Tenor),
Lawrence Wallington (Bass), David Martin (Countertenor)
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1975; England 
Length: 4 Minutes 3 Secs. 
15. Nunc dimittis by Sir William Walton
Performer:  Robert [Bass Voice] MacDonald (Bass), Robert Quinney (Organ)
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1975; England 
Length: 2 Minutes 13 Secs. 
16. Final Responses by Bernard Rose
Performer:  Francis Brett (Cantor)
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
Length: 0 Minutes 22 Secs. 

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