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Culture: CD reviews.

Byline: Reviewed by David Hart

Peter Maxwell Davies: Mass/Missa parvula etc -Westminster Cathedral Choir (Hyperion CDA67454) From 1960s enfant terrible to knight of the realm and Master of the Queen's Music, Peter Maxwell Davies continues to confound critics (some of whom greeted his First Symphony in 1976 with mutterings of selling out) and defy expectations. Now the 'scourge of the establishment' -as Roderic Dunnett describes him in the scholarly notes that accompany this admirable release -has surprised everyone by turning his attention to liturgical church music. Written for and first performed by the Choir of Westminster Cathedral, the 2002 Mass and Missa parvula (Little Mass) from 2003 are unmistakably Maxwell Davies, crafted with a palpable economy of style rooted in plainchant and counterpoint, yet expressively and achingly beautiful in their use of dissonance and choral timbres. The Mass, for full choir and two organs (though it can be done with one), is the more substantial setting, often exciting and aurally challenging -the organ's florid outbursts in the Gloria are particularly dramatic -and uplifting, as in the unison Credo, a wonderfully muscular affirmation of faith.

By comparison Missa parvula, for unison treble (or soprano) voices and organ, is much simpler and relatively diatonic in a major-minor sort of way. At one point during the Benedictus Maxwell Davies even strays into Rutter territory, with an uncharacteristically sweet little solo; and in the Agnus Dei he pays generous melodic compliments to Faure.

Both works offer deeply rewarding and devotional listening, as do the Two Latin Motets and a couple of organ solos played by Robert Quinney. Directed by Martin Baker, the Westminster choristers sing with mellifluous elegance, and at times a refreshingly throaty openness of tone, in a clear, well-balanced recording. HHHH

To buy this CD for pounds 12.99, inc p&p, call our Music Line on 01634 832 789
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 15, 2004
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