American Record Guide (Cincinnati, OH)
"Two contrasting settings of the Ordinary of the Mass, both influenced by traditional Celtic music. Dublin born composer Michael McGlynn has created a setting “seen though a folk music lens” incorporating a variety of elements: Gaelic texts, Celtic rhythms, and influences from Dufay to Britten as well as the Bulgarian choral tradition. Amidst the texts of the Ordinary, McGlynn “tropes” movements in Gaelic and Latin: ‘Codhlaim go Suan’, ‘Alleluia’, ‘Ave Maria’, ‘Pater Noster’. Scored for choir, soloists, organ, string quartet, and harp, it displays an inventive and uniquely creative treatment of the texts. Of particular note is the ethereal Sanctus and the shimmering Agnus Dei, which ends on a note of uncertainty, suggesting the search for peace continues.
Sir James MacMillan, a prominent Scottish composer, has achieved international status. He has written music ranging from symphonies and choral-orchestral works to chamber music for instruments and voices, but choral music stands at the center of his output. He has stated that “Music seeks out the sacred—in a sense, all music is sacred” and his Mass reflects his firm grounding in the culture and heritage of his native Scotland, coupled with his devout Catholic faith.
Scored for choir and organ, it is the only one of his three masses in the vernacular, and it also includes settings of the Celebrant’s part —Sursum Corda, Preface, Eucharist Prayer, and the Memorial Acclamation. This marvelous music is mystical, ecstatic, joyous. One wishes to hear it as part of a real celebration of the Eucharist. The movements are unified by a motive in the tradition of Renaissance Mass settings—a rising fifth followed by a rising melisma—infusing them with a sense of yearning. A climax is reached in the Sanctus that combines the motive, contrapuntal rigor, and virtuosic organ flourishes to create an atmosphere of choral ecstasy. Fine choir in fine performances. Notes on the music and texts."
MusicWeb International (Coventry, UK)
"This is a disc of two settings of the Catholic Mass by composers from the Gaelic countries of the British Isles, performed by an American choir and recorded by an American label not particularly associated with recordings of church music. That in itself makes this a fascinating release. But the quality not only of the music but of the music-making makes this a very special release indeed. Irish composer Michael McGlynn focuses just about exclusively on choral music, and describes his musical language as combining “Irish and medieval modality with a contemporary sensibility…fused with jazz-tinged chordal clusters and a distinctive melodic awareness influenced strongly by traditional Irish singing”. His Celtic Mass was written between 1989 and 1991 and combines the usual sections of the liturgical Mass (sung in Latin) with Gaelic verses for the Responsorial Psalm and the Alleluia Incantations. It is performed here with an instrumental accompaniment which not only features a virtuoso organ part (wonderfully played by Scott Bennett) but also a superb string sextet supplemented occasionally by a harp. The Taylor Festival Choir has been in existence since 2001 and while this disc seems to have been recorded in two sessions a year apart (the documentation is pretty sketchy in this area) and with two different groups of singers, conductor Robert Taylor infuses both the works on this disc with a degree of intensity and visionary zeal which communicates itself most powerfully in McGlynn’s somewhat misty and often evocative writing. There are hints of Irish folk music here, passages clearly derived from traditional Irish singing, and some feeling of the Irish folk music tradition in the instrumental support. More significant is a very accessible yet distinctive musical voice, which these singers deliver with impressive conviction. The combination of Celtic mysticism and Christian fervour proves to be a heady mix, especially in this opulent and spacious recording. In one word – lovely! James MacMillan wrote his liturgical setting of the Mass in 2000 for the choir of Westminster Cathedral. It is, to be pernickety, one of six Mass settings MacMillan has so far produced (the booklet notes suggest there are only three), and he revised it in 2013; so we could suggest there are now seven distinct MacMillan Masses. Here, we have the 2000 version, and as such it brings us head-to-head with the Hyperion recording by the work’s dedicatees recorded in 2001. MacMillan has moved a long way since this work first appeared, and I wonder now at the strong hints of Duruflé which seem some distance from MacMillan’s own very personal style. Nevertheless this is deeply affecting and moving music, once again powerfully delivered by these committed and accomplished performers. The Mass requires not just a virtuoso organ part – which again is brilliantly brought to life by Scott Bennett on what sounds to be a very fine organ indeed, even if the recording does place it rather a long way away for it to make the kind of impact the Hyperion recording from Westminster does – but also choral singing of the very highest order. It certainly gets that here, with mature sopranos clearly challenged – and meeting the challenge head-on – by some of MacMillan’s more extraordinary writing in the “Gloria”. Most impressive of all is the spell-binding way in which they build up to the cataclysmic outpouring of waves of joy in the “Sanctus” (track 15 from around 1:15). Brandon Hendrickson, who sings the words of the celebrant, is possibly a shade too operatic to be convincing, and one would have liked something a little less dramatic from him to underscore the liturgical nature of the music and to contrast it with the often awe-inspiring drama of the choral parts. All told, this is a very impressive performance indeed and one which makes a worthy addition to the catalogue despite the presence of the outstanding Hyperion disc. Many will be drawn to this simply because of the polish and intensity Taylor brings to his readings (and I certainly would not want to be without the McGlynn Celtic Mass), and the way his choir responds with such potent empathy for the music."
Crescendo Magazine (Uccle, Belgium)
" These two masses have many points in common. Each is divided into nine parts and both bask in a serene atmosphere, where meditation and fervor reign – an intimate fervor, internalized, far different from those masses of the post-romantic era that are almost always laden with Saint-Sulpician ornaments and heavily backed up with orchestral effects. On this note, the Scotsman James MacMillan is probably more inclined than the Irishman Michael McGlynn to seek out simplicity in his melodic lines, perhaps conscious that the mass, in the Catholic liturgy, is first and foremost the celebration of its faithful, given form through such parts as the Credo, the Pater Noster and the Agnus Dei. He is himself a fervent Catholic and – in his various interviews – does not hesitate to say that all the music that he composes has something sacred about it and that it is the expression of his deepest religious convictions.
The excellence of the recordings of these two contemporary masses owes a great deal to Robert Taylor, who founded this choir in Charleston, South Carolina and who also directs the chorus of that city’s symphony orchestra. In keeping with this professional background, he has revived in particular such little-known choral works of Ralph Vaughan Williams as An Oxford Elegy and Epithalamion, setting poems by Edmund Spenser. You will recall that in 1922, the same Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote his important Mass in G Minor, which contributed to the renewal of British religious music in the 20 th century – and we can rightly place Michael McGlynn’s Celtic Mass and James MacMillan’s Mass in its wake."
-- Jean-Baptiste Baronian
Translation by Dennis Adams, Sept. 13, 2016
American Record Guide (Cincinnati, OH)
"Full Disclosure: As the leading choral guru in my hometown of Charleston, SC, Robert Taylor is someone I think of as a friend as well as a fabulous musician. Some years back, I sang in two of his choirs, and have since heard (and reviewed) his ensembles repeatedly in concert. You may thus take what I have to say about this enchanting album with a grain or two of salt. But consider his solid record of accomplishments, which include multiple appearances of his choirs (this one and his College of Charleston Concert Choir) at the national ACDA and NCCO conventions, where merely getting invited is a major coup in the choral world.
This excellent professional choir is the flagship ensemble of Charleston’s annual Taylor Music Festival: a celebration of both classical and Celtic music that also presents international Celtic stars like fiddler Liz Carroll, singer-songwriter John Doyle, percussionist Danny Mallon, and harpist Kim Robertson, among otherwise mostly Charleston-based musicians; they all appear as guest artists in this delightful holiday collection with a distinct Irish twist. Sure an’ Begorrah, I’d bet good money that you’ve never heard traditional Christmas music before with their unique brand of Irish instrumental verve and spirit.
The album’s heart is made up of classic British carols and original settings of common holiday texts. Among these, you’ll hear distinctive arrangements of well-known fare like ‘Wexford Carol’, ‘Coventry Carol’, and ‘Wassail’. Composer Brian Galante contributes a richly evocative setting of ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’. High points among other original compositions include a stunning account of Eric Whitacre’s a cappella masterpiece, ‘Lux Aurumque’ and the Sanctus from noted Irish composer Michael McGlynn’s Celtic Mass. And just wait until you hear the happy hijinks of ‘Mrs Fogarty’s Christmas Cake’. Space considerations preclude further exploration of this very original program and all its wonderful performers. But even if there’s only a wee bit o’ the Irish in ye, you’ll find this to be a true pot o’ musical gold at the end of the holiday rainbow."
Charleston Today (Charleston, SC)
"the event turned out to be such a spectacular display of choral wizardry that I felt compelled to tell the public about it"
-Lindsay Koob on the Taylor Festival Choir's 'Oktoberfest' performance (Full Article Here)