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BACH-coverfron-sRGB.jpg (UK) " his mature style, they're again sublime"

June 15, 2018

Graham Rickson,

The Secret Mass: Choral works by Frank Martin and Bohuslav Martinů Danish National Vocal Ensemble/Marcus Creed (OUR Recordings)
We're lucky to be able to hear Frank Martin’s Mass for two four-part choirs at all; this most fastidious and self-critical of composers beavered away for decades before he felt he'd found his mature compositional voice. If you're not yet familiar with Martin, rush out now and pick up a recording of his sublime Petite Symphonie Concertante. It deserves be a popular classic, but Martin is still dismissed as a dour Swiss technician by those poor souls who've never heard a note of his music. That work was composed in the mid 1940s. This Mass was completed in 1922, but was locked away until choral conductor Franz Bunnert caught site of the score and persuaded Martin to sanction a premiere in 1963. Self-doubt was only part of it: Martin was deeply religious but felt that his relationship with God was a personal matter, and that the Mass’s “expression of religious feelings ought to remain private and be kept away from the public.” This work is too good to have remained hidden. It is restrained, intimate and personal, though anyone coming to it cold will be dazzled by how beautiful the music is, a radiant, accessible affirmation of faith. It gets a glorious performance from Marcus Creed’s well-drilled Danish choir. Every line is audible, the diction impeccable. If I were forced to choose just one choice moment, I'd opt for the sopranos’ flattened seventh 20 seconds into the “Sanctus”. Phwoar. You’ll know when you hear it. There's also the matter of Martin’s Songs of Ariel, five acapella Shakespeare settings which later prompted him to write an opera based on The Tempest. Displaying his mature style, they're again sublime. The tolling bells in Full Fathom Five and buzzing insects mimicked in Where the bee sucks are brilliantly realised.
From Martin, it's just a short encyclopaedical hop to his near-contemporary Martinů, whose 1934 Four Songs of the Virgin Mary are also included. These settings of folk poetry are irresistible: there’s a joyous depiction of the newborn Christ catching fish for his mother’s breakfast and a cautionary tale about highwaymen damaging a holy icon. Martinů's affecting secular cantata Romance from the Dandelions closes the disc. Beautifully sung, engineered and packaged, with full texts and translations. Graham Rickson, June 16.2018

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