I am one of those unfortunate victims of the modern world who have to spend the workday confined to a cubicle. The walls are only five feet tall, and thin, so they can’t block the sound of the other drones around me. I can hear every whisper, every sniffle and cough, every conversation in the entire room.
The salvation of my sanity, though, is music. I have several gigabytes of boy choirs on my iPod so my earbuds become an invisible shield wall that I can hide behind.
One particular CD that distracts me very nicely is titled The Music of Westminster Cathedral Choir. This CD has some of the usual songs, such as Ave Verum Corpus, Mendelssohn’s Ave Maria and Nunc Dimittis and those are very nicely done, but two songs stand out uniquely.
The first is Benjamin Britten’s short Mass Sanctus and Agnus Dei. The other is Sanctus, Mass in G, by Poulenc. Both versions of Sanctus share the same words but I love the way the two sound so completely different, yet brilliant.
I could try to describe them but I can’t do better than their music director, James O’Donnell does in the liner notes. I don’t understand all of it but he says, “(Sanctus) is based on a sweepingly powerful twelve-note theme…, (Agnus Dei) is set in an uneasy 5/4 meter over a sinister ground bass on top of which the text is sung to a sinuous and lamenting chromatic motif.”
If you hear the song you will understand what he is saying, and the adjectives sinuous and lamenting are really appropriate.
As for the other Sanctus O’Donnell says, “If Britten’s Sanctus hints at the power and majesty of the heavenly throng, Poulenc’s angels seem to be dancing on tiptoes with barely-contained childlike joy. The final Hosanna then surprises with its suddenly unleashed power…”
It’s a really beautiful piece and, to my ear, it’s very complex but the choir handles it wonderfully well, as they do the entire CD.
This is my only Westminster album so far but not for long.