Luigi Azzolini

Roger Davidson: Missa Universalis

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In his Missa Universalis (1984-1992), Roger Davidson proposes that if the Catholic liturgy is shorn of its Christology and pared down to its simplest theological point -- namely, a belief in one God -- it can express a belief that is shared by all people around the world. However, many polytheists would differ, finding the central statement of the text,Credo in unum Deum, to be restrictive; and sectarians and secularists alike might find the ecumenical sentiments behind the truncated text well-intended but naïve. Apart from Davidson's religious ideas and editing, this collection of three masses for a cappella mixed chorus may appeal through its lush and subdued music, for its rich harmonies, simple structures, and reverent moods are its most attractive features. Davidson demonstrates considerable skill in choral writing, and his tonal music is quite reminiscent of early twentieth century church music, especially in its modal inflections and predominantly chordal text setting. If shades of Fauré or Vaughan Williams seem to color Davidson's tonal palette, the effect is at least pleasant, if a little excessive over the course of the whole work. The masses tend to be repetitive and monotonous, and by grouping them together, Davidson asks a lot of listeners' patience; should he ever revise it, Missa Universalis might benefit from a few interludes of contrasting material. Fortunately, there are other pieces on this CD that are different in timbres and expression, most notably the festive Hymn and Variations for brass quintet (1995) and the dramatic Alleluia for baritone voice, choir and brass quintet (1993), both of which offer a change from the consistently hushed tone of the masses. The performances by the Coro Polifonico Castelbarco di Avio, under Luigi Azzolini, and the Aeneus Brass Quintet are polished and wonderfully resonant, thanks to the highly echoic acoustics of the Church of Santa Maria Assunta in Ala, Italy, and the fine engineering and mastering by Marcos Piccoli and Jon Russell.

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