Friday, 6 April 2007

A Searing but Beautiful Pain

Almost the first record I was ever given was of the Westminster Cathedral Choir singing the Victoria Responsories. The Master of Music was George Malcolm, who famously gave the choir its unique 'continental tone'.

The music has haunted me ever since; the exquisite texts combine with music of sublime power and passion, utterly suited to the insistent and searing tone of Malcolm's choir. The current Master of Music, Martin Baker, has just informed me that Malcolm allowed no studio recordings, and so when the first recording went wrong, the record company had to wait an enture year until the choir performed them again.

We sing them at the morning Office of Readings, or Matins, on Good Friday and Holy Saturday: the sound is still heart-stopping. The texts themselves are of an intensity that makes real the suffering of Christ on the Cross - in this example the music setting the words "si est dolor similis" is sung by a high treble, and is almost a cry of pain.

Caligaverunt oculi mei a fletu meo: quia elongatus est a me, qui consolabatur me: Videte, omnes populi, si est dolor similis sicut dolor meus. O vos omnes, qui transitis per viam, attendite, et videte si est dolor similis sicut dolor meus.

(Mine eyes are dimmed by my tears: For He is taken far from me that comforted Me: See, O all ye people, if there be a sorrow like unto My sorrow. O, all ye people, who pass by in the street, look and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow.)

The record was made in 1960, but was re-released on CD by Decca in1994.


Anonymous said...

I understand it is practically not feasible, but wouldn't it be wonderful if Victoria's Responsories and Palestrina's Lamentations were performed during the Triduum?

Having both the George Malcolm and the David Hill interpretations of the Responsories, I can only agree that this music is heartrending, and utterly beautiful, indeed.

Is it true that during George Malcolm's twelve year tenure as Master of Music, only two recordings were made (Victoria's Responsories for Tenebrae and Britten's Missa brevis)?

Mark Langham said...

I believe you are right about the recordings - Malcolm clearly did not see them as a priority!