Ralph Vaughan Williams' Dona Nobis Pacem was composed in 1936, at a time when the text was especially relevant. The packaging on this Hyperion release mentions support from the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, which may explain why the label departed from its usual roster of English choirs for the Rocky Mountains and a performance by the symphony and its choir, led by American conductor Andrew Litton. As it happens, it was an inspired choice. Whatever the Colorado Symphony Chorus may slightly lack in tonal purity as compared with a leading English university choir, it makes up in direct emotional engagement with the unusually vivid text, fusing the Agnus Dei of the Catholic mass with the poetry of Walt Whitman, embodying pounding drums and blaring bugles. There's something quite compelling about the whole combination. Another attraction is the Missa Mirabilis of Stephen Hough, so named after the composer suffered a disastrous auto crash on a British expressway, but managed to climb out of his car carrying the score of the mass. The piece is an intelligent extension of the Poulenc style, and it would work on any number of choral programs. Strong solo turns by the British soloists, soprano Sarah Fox and baritone Christopher Maltman, add to the appeal and the sense of a mixture held together well by the conductor. Hyperion also adapts well to the new engineering surroundings of the Boettcher Concert Hall in Denver, Colorado. Recommended.
Vaughan Williams: Dona nobis pacem; Stephen Hough: Missa Mirabilis Review
by James Manheim