Choir of Westminster Abbey / James O'Donnell

Taverner: Western Wynde Mass; Missa Mater Christi Sanctissima

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AllMusic Review by James Manheim

The English choral style of the early Renaissance can be forbidding, with vast structures unmarked by the points of imitation and regular phrase structure of High Renaissance polyphony. The music of John Taverner fits this description, but the Western Wynde Mass, a compact piece permeated by the popular song on which it is based, is an unusually accessible example. It is not really either a cantus firmus mass or a parody mass. The emphasis can be variously placed in performing it, but the 30 men and boys of the Westminster Abbey Choir under James O'Donnell apply a simple, direct approach that's very appealing. Sample any movement for the effect. The program opens with a cantus firmus mass (together with the motet on which it's based), the Missa Mater Christi sanctissima, which is similar in scope to the Western Wynde Mass, but somewhat different in construction and entirely different in effect. Thus, the music is attractive in itself and is likely to hone the ear of the average listener in terms of hearing the styles of Taverner's music. The sound is another plus, recorded at St. Alban's church rather than at the rather cavernous Abbey itself. An above-average entry in the ongoing stream of recordings by England's renowned cathedral choirs.

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