Ludford: Ave Maria, ancilla Trinitatis, Missa Videte miraculum

Dark green flowers

The Choir of Westminster Abbey, James O’Donnell
hyperion CDA68192
+Alleluia Ora pro nobis, Hac clara die turma, Ninefold Kyrie

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his selection of Marian music by Nicholas Ludford usefully presents his polyphony in a semi-liturgical context. For example, his Ninefold Kyrie, a so-called ‘square’, appears in alternatim with an anonymous two-part organ piece on the same ‘square’ played by James O’Donnell. Extra ‘verses’ appear in modern organ elaborations by Magnus Williamson. Similarly Ludford’s polyphonic setting of Alleluia. Ora pro nobis appears in alternatim with chant verses, as does his setting of Hac clara die turma. His mouth-watering setting of Ave Maria, ancilla Trinitas represents his more typically flamboyant polyphonic side, opening with two- and three part polyphony before the full choral forces are unleashed on the verse Ave Maria suor angelorum – clearly Ludford’s singers represent the voices of the angels. The Westminster Abbey Choir sing this music with considerable authority and commitment, and there is a fine balance between the adult and children’s voices. I can still remember the stir when the Cardinall’s Musick released their ground-breaking series of recordings of Ludford’s Masses on ASV in the early 1990s, bringing his music to a wider audience for the first time in modern times and instantly restoring the composer’s name to the list of first rank Renaissance English composers. Something of that wonder still lingers on hearing his imaginative and utterly assured setting of Ave Maria and being reminded of the virtues of his Mass Videte miraculum. The present performances capture well his lithe vocal lines with their smooth transitions between reduced forces episodes and declamatory full choir sections and glorious concluding perorations. Gold stars to the choir’s excellent trebles who cope admirably with the work’s two complex treble lines. In glancing back at the ASV recordings, I recall the golden days when masses were presented in a rudimentary liturgical framework – it seems regrettably as if these days are past, but this CD with its nod in that direction is probably the next best thing.

D. James Ross

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