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David Briggs - Mass for Notre Dame - Classical Music Sentinel

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All of you who have become convinced that any new music being written these days is only going to be either boring formulaic minimalism, atonal noise, eletronic manipulation, or worst of all, tepid crossover attempts to draw a different crowd, can all breathe a deep sigh of relief. David Briggs (b1962) has come to the rescue with this jaw-dropping Mass for Notre-Dame, composed in 2002.

David Briggs is one of today’s best organists and one of the leading organ improvisers, following along the line of greats such as Dupré, Cochereau, Guillou, Latry…and his writing is very much old school and on a grand scale, somewhat like Langlais and Duruflé, but even better in my opinion. The various organ improvisations in particular, that act as instrumental interludes within the framework of the Mass, are quite simply wonderful. They bring to mind the glory days of the mighty pipe organ. One fine example is the Toccata on Te Deum Laudamus in which while both hands are fiendishly working away at top speed on a remote subject, the mighty pedals are slowly and loudly proclaiming the melody proper of the Te Deum, and it all culminates on one of those glorious full-bore, plein jeux, all stops open chord underpinned by a 32′ Bombarde pedal stop that makes all the hairs on the back of your neck rise to attention. The choral writing is just as stunning in its rich harmonic colors, adventurous intervals, long flowing lines and cathedral filling ‘grandeur’. This is bold music in the best sense of the word, and it also, thankfully, defies the idea that all music these days needs to be homogenous and discrete in order to be effective.

The stunning Hyperion recording was done in Gloucester Cathedral, and it sounds as though the microphones were positioned in such a way as to fully capture the building’s acoustics and long reverberation, and therefore allow those massive organ chords to roll down along the ceiling. The 30-voice Trinity College Choir on the other hand, would have benefited from a closer microphone set-up for a stronger impact, but then I assume that by doing that, the feeling of being in a grand open space would have been lost.

So if you would like to feel the cathedral of today’s music tremble down to its foundation, get your hands on this stunning mass. A piece of music composed for a monumental building on a monumental scale, with not a sign of minimalism to be seen as far as the eye can see.

Jean-Yves Duperron

David Briggs - Mass for Notre Dame
Hyperion Records CDA67808