This is the second release to feature the outstanding Festival Singers of the Robert Shaw Institute of Music. The release was recorded by Telarc in the Quercy region of southwest France at the second annual Robert Shaw Institute of Music Festival. This talented chorus, lead by its truly legendary conductor, was first heard in a magnificent recording of the Rachmaninoff Vespers setting. This group exhibits some of the most glorious a cappella singing ever to be heard on disc, both in sound and interpretation.
All of the pieces on this recording were written for, and are performed by, unaccompanied voices. The Mass in G major was composed in 1937, and is scored for four-part chorus, as are the Four Motets for a Time of Penitence, completed in 1939. The Mass setting makes use of a variety of styles and textures, including frequent appearances of solo voices to heighten the traditional text. The Motets contain music that is austere, angular, and closely related to the texts, which were taken from the liturgy of the Passion.
The Four Short Prayers of Saint Francis, for unaccompanied male choir, were composed in 1948 for the monastery choir at Champfleury. Poulenc’s settings are simple and chant-like. Poulenc commented that, in setting these prayers to music, he “wished to perform an act of humility.” The Four Christmas Motets were composed in 1951 and 1952. The best known of the set, “O magnum mysterium,” displays the composer’s lyrical gift and poignant harmonies.
The reverberant acoustic of the Church of St. Pierre in Gramat, France is naturally and realistically captured, making the perfect “sonic backdrop” for the unaccompanied choral music of Poulenc. The many contrasts in mood and texture are clearly delineated without sacrificing any of the room’s superb acoustical properties.