Adrian Partington

Stanford: Mass 'Via Victrix'; At the Abbey Gate

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Charles Villiers Stanford had the misfortune to live until his music had fallen out of fashion. The Mass Via Victrix, Op. 173, a substantial 1919 work for four soloists, chorus, orchestra, and organ, apparently remained unperformed, except for the Gloria, even though it was published in 1920. The small cantata At the Abbey Gate, Op. 177, suffered the same fate. Perhaps audiences gravitated more toward composers who had actually fought in the war, but the elderly Stanford was in London when it was bombed, and he was forced to flee to Windsor. Whatever the case, the failure of the work must have been a bitter disappointment, for it shows evidence of heart and soul. As the title implies, the mass commemorates the war dead and gives thanks for Britain's victory. It combines a big public sort of conservative polyphony in the Gloria, with more passionate, inward material in the solos. Perhaps the mixture did not sit well with choir directors who examined the work. The Credo, however, is a major undiscovered masterwork (sample this, especially the Incarnatus). Stanford was embittered over his eclipse by Elgar, but the younger composer's influence found its way into this movement. The Sanctus, the mysterious, highly chromatic treatment of the Incarnatus, and the violent, leaping Crucifixus, have an immediacy that's very rare in mass settings of the 20th century. One hopes that choirs will incorporate this work into their repertories, although it needs powerful soloists; it receives them here in the quartet of Kiandra Howarth, Jess Dandy, Ruairi Bowen, and Gareth Brynmor John. The BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales bring commitment to their work, as do Lyrita's engineers, who bring forth wonderful choral clarity from Hoddinott Hall in Cardiff, Wales. Quite a surprise, and in parts very highly recommended.

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