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The tradition of venerating the Mother of God through music is as old as the Church itself and something of the rich variety of expression it has taken across the centuries is reflected in the music on this recording.
That variety stems in part from the fact that Mary has an honoured place in both the Church’s liturgy and also in her devotional life where there is greater freedom for poetic and imaginative interpretation. These two sources are often combined. There is perhaps no better example of this than the best-known Marian prayer, the Ave Maria, or Hail Mary. This has a first half comprised of the ‘plain words’ of Scripture whilst the second half is a devotional response. Its key position in Catholic devotion is reflected in the number of composers who have set this text to music.
The plainchant Ave Maria that opens this recording dates from the ninth century. The setting that follows by Robert Parsons was composed in the 1550s. As it predates the standardising of liturgical texts by the Council of Trent, Parsons sets only part of the prayer, omitting the last two lines. The setting is a perfect demonstration of the beauty of the composer’s musical imagination, with the cadences often softened through the addition of added sixth notes, perhaps hinting at Mary’s femininity.
Edward Elgar’s setting is an early composition and is notable for the sensitivity of its approach, growing more urgent only when pleading for Mary’s intercession for our sins. Saint-Saëns, who worked most of his life as organist of the Madeleine church in Paris, composed his setting of the text in 1863, one of many liturgical compositions by the composer. The treble voices divide and sing flowing lines above a rippling accompaniment in the organ.
Devotion to the Mother of God was a central feature of the Counter-Reformation and of Spanish Catholicism in the sixteenth century. This is reflected in the output of Tomás Luis de Victoria, whose setting of the Ave Maria for two four-part choirs, first published in Venice in 1572, is extended and sumptuous. Written in the antiphonal style, the music alternates chordal passages, sometimes in triple time, with polyphonic exchanges of great spaciousness and richness. In contrast, the setting by Marcel Dupré, which dates from the First World War, is lyrical and poignant though not without moments of harmonic unease.
Like that of Dupré and Victoria, the considerable body of liturgical music composed by Anton Bruckner was a product of his devout Roman Catholic beliefs. His Ave Maria of 1861 hints at the modality and chant-like melodic lines of the Renaissance masters he so admired but the harmonic shifts display a clearly Romantic sensibility. Contemporary Scottish composer James MacMillan’s setting was composed in 2010. Contrasting quasi-improvisatory passages on the organ with greatly varied choral textures, the work offers a powerful and decidedly individual setting of this ancient text.
|2||05:14||Ave Marie||Robert Parsons|
|3||04:36||Ave Maris stella||Edward Elgar|
|4||04:13||Ave virgo sanctissima||Francesco Guerrero|
|5||03:13||Ave maris stella||Edward Greig|
|6||02:54||Ave Maria||Edward Elgar|
|7||05:23||Tota pulchra es Maria||Anton Bruckner|
|8||03:14||Ave Maria||Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns|
|9||03:28||A Hymn to the Virgin||Benjamin Britten|
|10||08:15||Salve, mater misericordiae||plainchant|
|11||01:21||Regina coeli||Francesco Soriano|
|12||04:21||Ave Maria||Tomas Luis de Victoria|
|13||02:23||Ave Maria||Marcel Dupré Recordare/Ab hac familia: Offertory|
|14||05:37||Veni, sponsa mea||Étienne Moulinié|
|15||03:31||Ave Maria||Anton Bruckner|
|16||02:44||I sing of a maiden||Matthew martin|
|17||03:11||Maria, mater gratia||Gabriel Fauré|
|18||03:01||Mother of God, here I stand||John Tavener|
|19||13:12||Ave Maria||James MacMillan|