Menotti & Vierne: Masses / William Ferris Chorale

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REVIEW:Cedille has made a good decision in choosing this program to launch its new mid-price FOUNDation imprint. First, Menotti's Mass proves surprisingly engrossing and substantial,...


Cedille has made a good decision in choosing this program to launch its new mid-price FOUNDation imprint. First, Menotti's Mass proves surprisingly engrossing and substantial, and, not surprisingly, full of beautiful melodic material and operatic-style passages and movements. Never having heard this work before, and being very familiar with the operas, I was expecting something more clever and catchy than profound. Well, what Menotti gives us is not exactly profound, but it's undeniably lovely and often very powerful, and the music, an intriguing stylistic mix, is weighty and thoroughly developed enough to give the textual/liturgical material its due.

Although originality is not much in evidence--Fauré, the Debussy of Pelléas, and Tchaikovsky's character effects in the ballets are never far away, nor are the film-music, plot-action orchestral devices--Menotti nevertheless knows how to write a very good theatre piece that at once successfully captures the significance of the Mass (and each of its movements) as a sacred, spiritual experience.

He's fortunate here to have some very fine soloists--not a weak link in this group--and an absolutely first-rate choir and conductor (Menotti sanctioned this performance and attended the rehearsals and concert from which this recording was made). The choir sopranos and tenors are worthy of special mention for their gorgeous tone and uninhibited ease in the upper-register passages. This is currently the only available recording of Menotti's Mass--a puzzle, given its immediately appealing character and standard performing forces--but the performances are excellent, and the sound, from a Chicago concert in 1982, is remarkably good thanks to expert remastering by engineer Bill Maylone.

Vierne's Messe solennelle is more stylistically and thematically cohesive than the Menotti, but it's anything but subtle; written for choir and two organs, it assumes a large performing space, large choral forces, and a room-filling organ sound. This performance, from a 1988 concert at a Chicago church, satisfies Vierne's requirements--including the support of two magnificent organs (whose specifications are thoughtfully included in the liner notes)--and makes a solid impression.

The William Ferris Chorale again makes a fine sound but seems less comfortable with the performing space and with the demands of coordinating organ and vocal parts. But in spite of the few out-of-sync moments, the overall performance is the kind that would leave an audience enthralled, especially regarding the big climaxes, rich tutti choral textures, and the visceral impact of the organ sound (very well recorded). In all, this proves not only an engaging program, but, particularly in the case of the Menotti, a welcome and important addition to the choral catalog. Warmly recommended. [1/11/2007]

--David Vernier,

Product Description:

  • Release Date: January 01, 2006

  • UPC: 735131700122

  • Catalog Number: CDR 7001

  • Label: Cedille

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Gian Carlo Menotti, Louis Vierne

  • Conductor: William Ferris

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Composer Festival Orchestra, William Ferris Chorale

  • Performer: Deborah Fair, Dexter Bailey, Joan Gibbons, John Vorrasi, Thomas Weisflog, Tom Sillitti