"This is a disc of two settings of the Catholic Mass by composers from the Gaelic countries of the
British Isles, performed by an American choir and recorded by an American label not particularly
associated with recordings of church music. That in itself makes this a fascinating release. But
the quality not only of the music but of the music-making makes this a very special release
Irish composer Michael McGlynn focuses just about exclusively on choral music, and describes his musical
language as combining “Irish and medieval modality with a contemporary sensibility…fused with jazz-tinged
chordal clusters and a distinctive melodic awareness influenced strongly by traditional Irish singing”. His
Celtic Mass was written between 1989 and 1991 and combines the usual sections of the liturgical Mass
(sung in Latin) with Gaelic verses for the Responsorial Psalm and the Alleluia Incantations. It is performed
here with an instrumental accompaniment which not only features a virtuoso organ part (wonderfully
played by Scott Bennett) but also a superb string sextet supplemented occasionally by a harp.
The Taylor Festival Choir has been in existence since 2001 and while this disc seems to have been
recorded in two sessions a year apart (the documentation is pretty sketchy in this area) and with two
different groups of singers, conductor Robert Taylor infuses both the works on this disc with a degree of
intensity and visionary zeal which communicates itself most powerfully in McGlynn’s somewhat misty and
often evocative writing. There are hints of Irish folk music here, passages clearly derived from traditional
Irish singing, and some feeling of the Irish folk music tradition in the instrumental support. More significant
is a very accessible yet distinctive musical voice, which these singers deliver with impressive conviction.
The combination of Celtic mysticism and Christian fervour proves to be a heady mix, especially in this
opulent and spacious recording. In one word – lovely!
James MacMillan wrote his liturgical setting of the Mass in 2000 for the choir of Westminster Cathedral. It
is, to be pernickety, one of six Mass settings MacMillan has so far produced (the booklet notes suggest
there are only three), and he revised it in 2013; so we could suggest there are now seven distinct
MacMillan Masses. Here, we have the 2000 version, and as such it brings us head-to-head with the
Hyperion recording by the work’s dedicatees recorded in 2001. MacMillan has moved a long way since this
work first appeared, and I wonder now at the strong hints of Duruflé which seem some distance from
MacMillan’s own very personal style. Nevertheless this is deeply affecting and moving music, once again
powerfully delivered by these committed and accomplished performers.
The Mass requires not just a virtuoso organ part – which again is brilliantly brought to life by Scott Bennett
on what sounds to be a very fine organ indeed, even if the recording does place it rather a long way away
for it to make the kind of impact the Hyperion recording from Westminster does – but also choral singing of
the very highest order. It certainly gets that here, with mature sopranos clearly challenged – and meeting
the challenge head-on – by some of MacMillan’s more extraordinary writing in the “Gloria”. Most impressive
of all is the spell-binding way in which they build up to the cataclysmic outpouring of waves of joy in the
“Sanctus” (track 15 from around 1:15). Brandon Hendrickson, who sings the words of the celebrant, is
possibly a shade too operatic to be convincing, and one would have liked something a little less dramatic
from him to underscore the liturgical nature of the music and to contrast it with the often awe-inspiring
drama of the choral parts.
All told, this is a very impressive performance indeed and one which makes a worthy addition to the
catalogue despite the presence of the outstanding Hyperion disc. Many will be drawn to this simply
because of the polish and intensity Taylor brings to his readings (and I certainly would not want to be
without the McGlynn Celtic Mass), and the way his choir responds with such potent empathy for the music."
"This lovely performance from the Taylor Festival Choir presents two very different but both profoundly
spiritual arrangements of the Catholic Mass. Both of these works display their composers’ strong Celtic
roots. Celtic Mass by Michael McGlynn includes sections in Irish Gaelic between the traditional Latin
phrases. Mass by James MacMillan sets the movements in English, and includes other liturgical texts that
make the work acceptable for a stand-alone service. The Taylor Festival Choir, conducted by Robert Taylor,
has earned itself a strong reputation for being one of America’s most prestigious professional choirs."
-ArkivMusic Editorial Review
"These two masses have many points in common. Each is divided into nine parts and both bask in a serene
atmosphere, where meditation and fervor reign – an intimate fervor, internalized, far different from those
masses of the post-romantic era that are almost always laden with Saint-Sulpician ornaments and heavily
backed up with orchestral effects. On this note, the Scotsman James MacMillan is probably more inclined
than the Irishman Michael McGlynn to seek out simplicity in his melodic lines, perhaps conscious that the
mass, in the Catholic liturgy, is first and foremost the celebration of its faithful, given form through such
parts as the Credo, the Pater Noster and the Agnus Dei. He is himself a fervent Catholic and – in his
various interviews – does not hesitate to say that all the music that he composes has something sacred
about it and that it is the expression of his deepest religious convictions.
The excellence of the recordings of these two contemporary masses owes a great deal to Robert Taylor,
who founded this choir in Charleston, South Carolina and who also directs the chorus of that city’s
symphony orchestra. In keeping with this professional background, he has revived in particular such little-
known choral works of Ralph Vaughan Williams as An Oxford Elegy and Epithalamion, setting poems by
Edmund Spenser. You will recall that in 1922, the same Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote his important Mass in
G Minor, which contributed to the renewal of British religious music in the 20th century – and we can
rightly place Michael McGlynn’s Celtic Mass and James MacMillan’s Mass in its wake."
Crescendo Magazine, Belgium
"Two contrasting settings of the Ordinary of the Mass, both influenced by traditional Celtic music. Dublin
born composer Michael McGlynn has created a setting “seen though a folk music lens” incorporating a
variety of elements: Gaelic texts, Celtic rhythms, and influences from Dufay to Britten as well as the
Bulgarian choral tradition. Amidst the texts of the Ordinary, McGlynn “tropes” movements in Gaelic and
Latin: ‘Codhlaim go Suan’, ‘Alleluia’, ‘Ave Maria’, ‘Pater Noster’. Scored for choir, soloists, organ, string
quartet, and harp, it displays an inventive and uniquely creative treatment of the texts. Of particular note is
the ethereal Sanctus and the shimmering Agnus Dei, which ends on a note of uncertainty, suggesting the
search for peace continues.
Sir James MacMillan, a prominent Scottish composer, has achieved international status. He has written
music ranging from symphonies and choral-orchestral works to chamber music for instruments and voices,
but choral music stands at the center of his output. He has stated that “Music seeks out the sacred—in a
sense, all music is sacred” and his Mass reflects his firm grounding in the culture and heritage of his native
Scotland, coupled with his devout Catholic faith.
Scored for choir and organ, it is the only one of his three masses in the vernacular, and it also includes
settings of the Celebrant’s part —Sursum Corda, Preface, Eucharist Prayer, and the Memorial Acclamation.
This marvelous music is mystical, ecstatic, joyous. One wishes to hear it as part of a real celebration of the
Eucharist. The movements are unified by a motive in the tradition of Renaissance Mass settings—a rising
fifth followed by a rising melisma—infusing them with a sense of yearning. A climax is reached in the
Sanctus that combines the motive, contrapuntal rigor, and virtuosic organ flourishes to create an
atmosphere of choral ecstasy. Fine choir in fine performances. Notes on the music and texts."
American Record Guide
"The Mass requires choral singing of the very highest order. It certainly gets that here, with mature
sopranos clearly challenged – and meeting the challenge head-on – by some of MacMillan’s more
extraordinary writing in the Gloria."
-Musicweb International, London
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