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The paradox that is Ralph Vaughan Williams the agnostic and Vaughan Williams the composer of some of the finest sacred music of the 20th century is striking. This new recording by the always excellent Choir of Clare College, Cambridge is also striking. It features a good cross-section of familiar works-the Mass in G minor-and a hearty sampling of lesser-known works.
The Mass in G minor is RVW's brilliant take on the music of the late English Renaissance. But the Mass is much more than a pastiche of Tallis and Byrd since RVW makes things interesting by mixing up the textures (there are sections solo voices, solo quartets, single and double choir) and creates a deeply moving work that will appeal to listeners who are fond of RVW's pastoral style. While I miss hearing trebles in the music's top line (pick up the recording by the Saint Thomas Choir on Koch for this), this is a very beautiful performance.
The rarities are real treasures. The Voice out of the Whirlwind, an anthem adapted from the "Galliard of the Sons of the Morning" from Job, is a big-boned workout for choir with an especially muscular organ part that is played brilliantly by Ashok Gupta. Perhaps best of all is A Vision of Aeroplanes, a strikingly cinematic take on the tale of Ezekiel and the wheel with another knuckle and foot-blistering organ part.
The performances are all excellent. Timothy Brown is one of the great choral conductors of the English repertoire and he gets responsive and technically polished performances from this fine choir. Kudos to the two organists also, Mr. Gupta is superb throughout and James McVinnie all but steals the show in the Vision of Aeroplanes.
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