Hyperion 10: #1. Victoria: Missa O Quam Gloriosum; Missa Ave Maris Stella / Choir of Westminster Cathedral, David Hill

The votes are in, the list is made. Only one piano CD has made it to the final 10, to my surprise, and some heartbreaking omissions have been necessary. Ah, well. I’ve decided to present them more or less in chronological order of recording.

My first choice is Westminster Cathedral Choir’s recording of two Victoria masses, those composed on O quam gloriosum and Ave maris stella, which was made when I was but a few months old. I could have chosen any of the choir’s several recordings of Victoria, but this one appeals most strongly because it was the one that opened my ears to the gloriousness of Victoria’s music. It won the 1985 Gramophone Award in the Medieval and Renaissance category.

The performance of the motet O quam gloriosum, a miniature masterpiece, is as fine as any committed to record. It is entirely alive to the music’s stark beauty and vitality, the sunshine that breaks through the clouds. The choir makes a robust, full-bodied sound throughout, though phrasing is always beautifully controlled and never pedestrian (in any sense). The trebles have rarely sounded so transcendent.

Writing on the occasion of the CD release (the LP having come out a few years earlier), here is John Milsom in Gramophone: “the music truly hangs in the air and dies away into silence. I need hardly repeat that the singing on this record is deeply committed, powerful and moving, particularly in the second Mass, Ave maris stella — a work that I shall never wish to associate with anything other than the vast spaces of Westminster Cathedral and the lovely singing of its choir.”

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