PANGE LINGUA - Music for Corpus Christi

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PANGE LINGUA - Music for Corpus Christi - Choir of Clare College, Cambridge - Graham Ross (Director) - 3149020768822 - Released: May 2017 - Harmonia Mundi 907688

Josquin Desprez: Missa Pange Lingua
- Kyrie
- Gloria
- Credo
- Sanctus
- Agnus Dei
Tomás Luis De Victoria: Lauda Sion salvatorem
Pierre de La Rue: O salutaris hostia
William Byrd: Cibavit eos
Edward Bairstow: Let all mortal flesh keep silence
Pierre Villette: O sacrum convivium
Olivier Messiaen: O sacrum convivium
Francis Grier: Panis angelicus
Graham Ross: Ave verum corpus
Gerald Finzi: Lo, the full, final Sacrifice

Definitely one of the best choral music recordings I've heard in a while. The Choir of Clare College presents a group of pieces based on the feast of Corpus Christi, with a number of pieces setting the hymns of St Thomas Aquinas. They appear in settings from the 16th, 20th and 21st centuries, framed by two masterpieces celebrating the Holy Communion: the Josquin Desprez Missa Pange Lingua and Gerald Finzi's extended anthem, Lo, the full, final Sacrifice. Franco-Flemish composer Josquin Desprez (1450-1521) is considered one of the greatest composers of Renaissance Europe. The Nuremberg printer, Johannes Otto, once remarked that no painter could express with the aid of pencil and colors the suffering face of the Crucified more convincingly than Josquin with his music. The Missa Pange Lingua is one of his most famous works, and one in which he pioneered the connection between the expressive power of the music and the emotional weight of the text. Gerald Finzi (1901-1956) composed Lo, the full, final Sacrifice directly following World War II in 1946. It's an extended anthem scored for choir and organ lasting nearly 15 minutes, sectioned into various musical tableaux based on the text, offering a variey of expressive content from start to finish, including an inspired and touching amen which itself stretches to a full minute.

The remaining, predominantly a cappella shorter pieces sandwiched in between these two aforementioned works are of equal importance and beauty, and are given the same treatment and respect by the choir and director Graham Ross. They include the quietly intimate and harmonically perfect O salutaris hostia by Pierre de La Rue, another Franco-Flemish composer from the same period as Josquin Desprez. The strangely evocative Panis angelicus by composer Francis Grier (b. 1955) belies its age. Its oddly Eastern sounding harmonic intervals make it seem more ancient, and the beautiful uniformity of the men's voices at the end will take your breath away. Receiving its world premičre recording here is the Ave verum corpus by the choir's director Graham Ross (b. 1985). Despite having been composed in 2009, it doesn't disrupt the mood set by the other pieces, but rather complements it by using advanced harmonic techniques to project the mysteries of this 14th century latin text very effectively.

But for me, the one piece that really brings this whole collection together and in which the choir's voices have the potential to transport you, is the deeply moving O sacrum convivium by French composer Olivier Messiaen. There are many Messiaen detractors out there who dislike the highly personal style of his later works, but this early piece is quite different in many ways. Messiaen was a very religious man who used predominantly religious subject matter for most of his main organ and orchestral works, and this deep conviction and devotion definitely comes through in this profound setting of the ancient latin text expressing the mysteries of the Eucharistic celebration. This music transcends time and space, and seems to glow from within, and touches the soul in a way that allows the listener to glimpse the infinite, and I can't stop listening to it over and over again. And every time I do, and hear the deeply expressive quality of the voices that are the Choir of Clare College, I can't help but think that this is one of the best choirs around.

Jean-Yves Duperron - June 2017