Polyphony - O Magnum Misterium: A Sequence Of 20th Century Carols And Sarum Chant

Tuesday 1st April 1997
Polyphony - O Magnum Misterium: A Sequence Of 20th Century Carols And Sarum Chant

STYLE: Choral
RATING 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10
LABEL: Hyperion 66925

Reviewed by John Irvine

A mixture of 20th century carols and plainchanl? The intention of this disc is not to boost sales by including commercially viable chant, but rather to use plainchant as "intermittent palate cleaners amidst the harmonically lush environment of 20lh century polyphone, to offer subtle associations of melodic character between the new and the old." 50 years separates the earliest of the modern pieces from the latest, from Peter Warlock and Herbert Howells in the 1920s and 1930s to Richard Rodney Bennett, a contemporary composer. All of the carols arc melodic, singable pieces and they all stem from the English "lyric" tradition steeped in folksong and plainchant. Polyphony have managed to weave together a seamless garment, a programme of 29 pieces which is somehow greater than its constituent parts; rather than a mere collection of comparatively recent carols, we have a single performance where carol follows carol without pause. This is beautiful music and whatever the spiritual state of the composers concerned, they have created some of the finest music imaginable on the theme of the birth of Christ. It would be unfair of me to attempt to isolate some pieces as exemplary or as high points of this disc: this disc is of such a uniformly high standard in terms o\~ both performance and music. A wonderful disc, thoroughly recommended.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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