Album Review

Posted: Saturday 11th March 2000
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Kodály: Choral Works – Ian Colson

This recording of music by the Hungarian composer Kodaly is the first time I have had the pleasure of hearing The Vasari Singers. And a pleasure it has most definitely been. For anyone who doesn’t know, this is a London-based chamber choir, and winners of the 1988 Sainsbury’s Choir of the Year competition.

Missa Brevis is an impassioned work, and its title is somewhat misleading, as this is no brief interpretation of the mass. Written during the Second World War, it received its first performance in 1945 in Budapest, immediately after the siege, in the Opera House, where Kodaly and his wife had been sheltering. The only undamaged part of the building was the cloakroom, so that’s where it was sung.

Complete with organ solos at the beginning and end, the pain of Kodaly’s experiences is only too abundant in the music. Phrases such as ‘Lord have mercy’, and ‘Crucified for us’, seethe with the agony he must have felt at first hand. At ‘He suffered and was buried’, the basses drop to subterranean levels, and we feel the earth closing in about us. Ultimately, though, this is a work of hope, with more than four minutes given to ‘Grant us Thy peace’ in Agnus Dei.

Laudes Organi is the last large-scale work Kodaly wrote, and draws its inspiration from such disparate sources as Bach, Gregorian chant, and Hungarian folk-song. The vibrant Latin text provides much opportunity for vocal word painting, sometimes perhaps a little obvious, but nevertheless charming.

The choir is at its best, though, in the unaccompanied pieces, Evening Song and Evening. These beautiful little gems, with their close harmony and evocation of day yielding to peaceful night are, for me, the highlights of this immensely enjoyable recording.

Ian Colson
Lay Clerk of York Minster