Although Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) called himself an atheist who became a "cheerful agnostic," he wrote a considerable number of liturgical works whose scope and variety are illustrated by this recording. The Latin and English texts are taken from the liturgy, the Bible (the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel), and John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress
, which the composer loved. The settings are for a cappella chorus and soloists, with prominent organ parts in the Te Deum and the Vision of aeroplanes. The style is modal and tonal, reminiscent of Gregorian chant, with call-and-response between soloists and chorus. Key changes are arrived at by leaps and juxtaposition rather than modulation; passages of imitative counterpoint set off the predominant rhythmic unison. The music is devout and distinctly though indefinably English and varies greatly in mood, intensity, and expression. "O vos omnes" is a moving lamentation, while "Valiant-for-Truth" is startlingly dissonant and ends in a very convincing vocal imitation of trumpets. "A Vision" goes from mysterious, wailing chromaticism to a thoroughly frightening evocation of the apocalypse.
Judith Bingham was born in 1952 and studied at London's Royal Academy of Music. Her Mass, flanked by two substantial organ solos, centers on the story of Christ's meeting with the Apostles at Emmaeus, incorporating parts of the liturgy, but omitting the Credo. Basically tonal, somewhat modal, but quite dissonant, it alternates rhythmic unison with imitation and counterpoint, building powerful climaxes with strongly contrasting textures, dynamics and colors. The all-male Westminster Cathedral Choir is most excellent: its intonation, balance and identification with the music are beyond praise. --Edith Eisler