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The nine Tenebrae motets are all grouped under one opus number, but they were written ten years apart. Yet the sombre unity of the texts is the more important point. The motets do not follow a logical sequence. In the First Nocturn of three versicles and responses Christ is on the Mount of Olives and foretells his capture and passion. The Second group concentrates obsessively on Judas, his betrayal and the kiss. The Third set reverts to the plotting of the priests and pharisees against Christ. The Latin is simple and repetitive, allowing Rubbra to produce nine miniatures of impeccable workmanship, in which lines of the text are dovetailed and overlap with great subtlety. Here a treble, alto and tenor solo show their paces, but perhaps the most affecting of the brief sentences concerns Christ's rebuke to the disciples 'Could ye not watch one hour with me?' [listen -- track 17, 0:00-1:07]. The Romans, however, do not always have the best tunes. There is much that is admirable in the Missa Cantuariensis, written towards the end of the Second World War and first performed in 1946. It is scored for double choir, a subdivision that the St John's singers achieve effortlessly. Rubbra has used the organ only in the Credo, so as consciously to separate it from the rest of the setting. As in the Anglican communion, the exultant Gloria comes last and is well worth waiting for [listen -- track 25, 0:00-0:49].

Copyright © 11 August 2001 Robert Anderson, London, UK







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