Compositions: Via Victrix Mass
Performers: BBC National Chorus and Orchestra of Wales/Partington
Catalogue Number: LYRITA SRCD382
Lyrita: the label’s very name evokes the same 1970s time-warp as Edward Heath, Gough Whitlam, Watergate, lava-lamps, platform-shoes, and the Bay City Rollers. The firm now re-emerges with another enduringly valuable issue of British music. This extremely well-filled CD makes a powerful case for two late Stanford pieces: one never heard complete since its 1921 premiere, the other – 1919’s Via Victrix Mass – never heard complete at all before a BBC concert in Cardiff last October, whence derives the performance under review.
At the Abbey Gate, only 13 minutes long, sets verses (by a High Court judge, Baron Darling) which honour the Unknown Soldier accorded Westminster Abbey interment in 1920. The Times’ critic shrewdly discerned ‘reticence’ in Stanford’s idiom, which occasionally echoes Wagner but eschews vociferation. More obviously ardent is Stanford’s 68-minute non-liturgical treatment of the Tridentine Rite.
It soon becomes clear why Verdi praised Stanford’s earlier sacred output (which included a Stabat Mater quoted in the Mass’s Credo). The horn-dominated Sanctus and viola-dominated Agnus Dei rank with Stanford’s most profound inspirations.
Cardiff’s audience kept miraculously quiet (we are spared applause) and the engineering is admirable. Conductor, choir and orchestra triumphantly surmount all difficulties. Only the soloists – tired-sounding and vibrato-laden – disappoint.