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Will Todd
Mass in Blue & Other Short Choral Works

Bethany Halliday soprano / Vasari Singers/Jeremy Backhouse


Signum 083 [55 mins]


From the moment Gounod published the big beat Credo of his Messe solennelle de Sainte Cécile the affinity between the cadences of the latin mass and modern rhythmic music became apparent.


With his Mass in Blue Will Todd seizes these opportunities with gusto in a work of considerable depth and complexity.


The introduction to the Kyrie , for piano and orchestra, is overtly reminiscent of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with just a hint of Scott Joplin, but soon the perspective opens up to display a myriad of influences.


The Gloria has a simple plainchant opening before the voice of the soprano soloist floats apparently effortlessly above the ensemble. Todd writes with bold simplicity for the choir, and has the confidence to introduce some highly original harmonies and tempi.


Nonetheless, he adheres faithfully to the spirit of the Tridentine Mass and the clarity of words from both choir and soloist is exemplary. The work builds up to an extended Agnus Dei and a deeply satisfying conclusion.


The London premiere performance will be at St Martin-in-the-Fields on 26 September.




Serena Fenwick


A further comment :-


How does a composer preserve his integrity? Those who are innovative have always been judged harshly in their own time. Posterity regards the Beethoven late quartets as unimpeachably good; in contemporary times they were seen as recalcitrant, incomprehensible.


It must be all the harder now, when classical music is so overshadowed by popular.


Nevertheless, it would be hasty to suggest that popularisation is somehow wrong or inferior. Will Todd's route is to combine traditional choral and traditional jazz gospel, to produce something completely original.


Can we also say that Todd's music is Northumbrian, as is his background? Certainly, there is a strong impetus from the regional heritage St Cuthbert in particular which reminds us that this was originally a distinctively different, demotic form of Christianity. This feeds into the subject matter of the works. But this is like asking what is Northern about the Angel of the North. Perhaps, in the end, it is simply because it, like this music, proclaims its difference.


I am totally out of sympathy with the project to make a jazz mass, my own sense of spiritualism in music is far more traditional and fuddy-duddy. Nevertheless, I can appreciate how well Todd has combined the mass form and the jazz idiom the woodwind sweep of the Sanctus, the rapid recitation of the Credo; these are well-judged innovations, with a firm basis in the familiar.


As a composer, to be comfortable with the simpler vocal and choral forms must be a great advantage; simply in terms of getting music performed. The remainder of the disc, documenting some of Todd's choral and vocal commissions, is recognisably in a modern, but accessible, choral idiom.


Ying Chang