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Trinity Sunday At Westminster Abbey / O'donnell, Et Al


Release Date: 12/13/2005 
Label:  Hyperion   Catalog #: 67557   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  TraditionalThomas TomkinsSir George ElveyBenjamin Britten,   ... 
Performer:  Julian EmpettRobert QuinneyYeachan Park
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 18 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

I haven’t put myself to the trouble of computing an exact count of the number of currently available CD releases that present a full set of Anglican services for a major feast of the Christian year, but I fear no sleep disturbances in reporting that the figure is considerably lower than the corresponding one for Beethoven’s Fifth. In the present case, an already-attractive programming premise gains a good deal of added interest from the juxtaposition of more-or-less standard Matins and Evensong repertoire with a 15-minute 1991 Eucharist setting (minus Credo) by Francis Grier, commissioned for the Abbey and apparently receiving its commercial recording premiere.

Under the circumstances, I feel obliged to sweep over the Matins
Read more and Evensong sections with a rather broader brush than I’d prefer. They’re superb. Both choral and solo singing are of the highest order, barring only a treble solo in the Britten Te Deum that strikes me as just a bit breathier than the ideal, and with particular kudos in order for the cantorial contribution of Julian Empett. Hyperion’s engineering places the singers perfectly in an acoustic space that—on both written and aural evidence—is more than reverberant enough to be potentially hazardous in this respect; its robust bottom end is particularly flattering to the organ. Excellent annotations by conductor O’Donnell are supplemented by an equally meritorious background essay from Westminster Dean Dr. Wesley Carr—which, I’ll complain in passing, should also have been accorded the courtesy of being translated into French and German, as are the program notes proper. Given organist Robert Quinney’s energetic and imaginatively registered rendition of the Stanford Fantasia and Toccata, I would have welcomed organ postludes for all three services; but a glance at the disc’s already-ample running time will explain why this pleasure had to be denied us.

As to the Eucharist setting, Grier’s own annotations (seven paragraphs’ worth) would in my estimation come close to justifying the disc’s purchase price for the program booklet alone. Consciously or not, Grier follows the example of Howells, known for taking particular care over the acoustic properties of the spaces in which his music was to be performed: “I well remember [on] my first visit to Westminster Abbey . . . being very interested by its peculiar acoustic qualities: the sound in the quire seemed very clear and precise, without overmuch resonance, whereas the nave had a long echo, adding a lot of reverberation to the music . . . [therefore] I wanted to try to write music which would be suitable for the closer, clearer and more personal, even intimate atmosphere of the quire, but which would also work after it had traveled down the great length of the entire building to the back of the nave. . . . I was also keen to try and introduce as much dramatic variation into the musical response to the Mass texts as possible.” In all of which, by my lights, he succeeds admirably; but the “as possible” qualification is key here. Grier wisely eschews complex polyphony, but otherwise draws on a wide variety of textures ranging from solo voices to parallel-voiced choral homophony over a drone-like bass, all carefully calculated to enhance the sense of the texts, and in a harmonic idiom that is generally conservative without triteness. Being a regularly practicing Anglican church-goer and chorister, my own approach to calculating the “bottom line” here is to ask, “Would I find this setting appropriate and effective in church?” The answer is yes.

I’m so taken by this program that I frankly rebel at the notion of spending one sentence, much less a paragraph, on the topic of alternative recordings; but some readers may care to know what their options are for some of the meatier Matins and Evensong items if they don’t fancy hearing them in this particular context. So: the available-alternate counts, per ArkivMusic.com, range from 18 for the Britten, down through 10 for Walton, two for Stainer, to zero for the Howells (the catalog is satisfyingly filthy with Howells “Mag and Nunc”s, but no competing versions of this specific 1957 Westminster-commissioned setting). Of these, I’m familiar at first hand only with a Stainer I Saw the Lord from the St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir under John Scott in Volume 1 of Hyperion’s “English Anthem” series, which is fully competitive and carries on its coattails such other gems as Balfour Gardiner’s Evening Hymn and Stanford’s Beati quorum via. There are several Britten Te Deums from performers I’m generally inclined to trust, including Sixteen/Christophers, King’s/Ledger, and again, St. Paul’s/Scott. For the Walton, you’re on your own; the only one I’d risk recommending ear-unheard is a 1992 Willcocks performance on Chandos, but it uses orchestra rather than organ accompaniment.

So enough already. I’m about to sound like a baseball announcer calling attention to a no-hitter-in-the-making during the seventh-inning stretch, but writing just after the feast of Saint Philip of Punxsutawney, I’d say this release stands quite a good chance of turning up on my 2006 Want List. Thankfully, dear reader, you needn’t wait nearly so long to decide that it belongs on yours.

FANFARE: James Carson
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Works on This Recording

1.
Carillon Bells by Traditional
Venue:  Westminster Abbey, London, England 
Length: 1 Minutes 17 Secs. 
Notes: Westminster Abbey, London, England (06/15/2005 - 06/22/2005) 
2.
The Preces by Thomas Tomkins
Performer:  Julian Empett (Tenor)
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: Renaissance 
Written: England 
Venue:  Westminster Abbey, London, England 
Length: 1 Minutes 19 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Arranger: Watkins Shaw.
Westminster Abbey, London, England (06/15/2005 - 06/22/2005) 
3.
Psalm 115 by Sir George Elvey
Performer:  Robert Quinney (Organ)
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: Romantic 
Written: England 
Venue:  Westminster Abbey, London, England 
Length: 3 Minutes 57 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Westminster Abbey, London, England (06/15/2005 - 06/22/2005) 
4.
Te Deum in C major by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Yeachan Park (Boy Soprano), Robert Quinney (Organ)
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1934; England 
Venue:  Westminster Abbey, London, England 
Length: 8 Minutes 21 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Westminster Abbey, London, England (06/15/2005 - 06/22/2005) 
5.
Jubilate Deo by Sir William Walton
Performer:  Robert Quinney (Organ)
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1972; England 
Venue:  Westminster Abbey, London, England 
Length: 3 Minutes 51 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Westminster Abbey, London, England (06/15/2005 - 06/22/2005) 
6.
The Responses by Thomas Tomkins
Performer:  Julian Empett (Tenor)
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: Renaissance 
Written: England 
Venue:  Westminster Abbey, London, England 
Length: 5 Minutes 25 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: This selection is part of a medley which also includes "The Lord's Prayer."
Arranger: Watkins Shaw.Westminster Abbey, London, England (06/15/2005 - 06/22/2005) 
7.
The Lord's Prayer by John Farmer
Performer:  Julian Empett (Tenor)
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: Renaissance 
Written: England 
Venue:  Westminster Abbey, London, England 
Length: 5 Minutes 25 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: This selection is part of a medley which also includes "The Responses."
Arranger: Watkins Shaw.
Westminster Abbey, London, England (06/15/2005 - 06/22/2005) 
8.
Missa trinitatis sanctae by Francis Grier
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
Venue:  Westminster Abbey, London, England 
Length: 15 Minutes 5 Secs. 
Notes: Westminster Abbey, London, England (06/15/2005 - 06/22/2005)
This selection is sung in Greek and Latin. 
9.
O give thanks unto the lord by Edward Bairstow
Performer:  Robert Quinney (Organ)
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
Venue:  Westminster Abbey, London, England 
Length: 9 Minutes 48 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Westminster Abbey, London, England (06/15/2005 - 06/22/2005) 
10.
Magnificat and Nunc dimittis "St. Peter in Westminster" by Herbert Howells
Performer:  Robert Quinney (Organ)
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1957; England 
Venue:  Westminster Abbey, London, England 
Length: 8 Minutes 24 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Westminster Abbey, London, England (06/15/2005 - 06/22/2005) 
11.
I Saw the Lord by John Stainer
Performer:  Robert Quinney (Organ)
Conductor:  James O'Donnell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir
Period: Romantic 
Written: after 1856; England 
Venue:  Westminster Abbey, London, England 
Length: 7 Minutes 15 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Westminster Abbey, London, England (06/15/2005 - 06/22/2005) 
12.
Fantasia and Toccata for Organ in D minor, Op. 57 by Charles Villiers Stanford
Performer:  Robert Quinney (Organ)
Period: Romantic 
Written: England 
Venue:  Westminster Abbey, London, England 
Length: 12 Minutes 40 Secs. 
Notes: Westminster Abbey, London, England (6/15/2005 - 6/22/2005) 

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