Huddled over the tinny little speakers of my laptop, I was not expecting to get the full effectof the excellent Westminster cathedral choir on Saturday morning. But I was utterly blown away by whatever it was that was sung at the very beginning of Saturday’s pontifical Mass, a vast, mad, sweeping setting of Tu Es Petrus that must have used and benefitted from the enormous space of the Cathedral and still led perfectly into a boring old plainchant introit.  Only after it was over did I electronically scuttle off in search of the Cathedral’s music list, and find it was by the friendly organist of St Columba’s Glasgow.

For me, in any case, this piece perfectly performed a very difficult task.

There is a fantastic range of textures. The choir and the band are used antiphonally,  preserving a clarity of sound that is lost when the two are mixed. Instrumental passages move from unison brass to vast gothick madness of brass and full organ (is that 32′ bombarde goodness I heard?) with bells and tam-tam: three such passages tie the piece together between three very different choral passges. “Tu es Petrus” reflects the opening fanfare in its glorious declamatory breadth, turning perfectly smoothly, on its second appearance,  into a Palestrina-esque moment at “aedificabo” which does indeed build. “et portes inferni … ” is a jagged unison line over (if my crappy computer speakers do not deceive me) a bass drum rumble”. “et tibi dabo” is a homophonic setting of a beautiful melodic treble line with the tiniest faintest Gaelic lilt – anyone who knows the St Anne Mass will recognise the little risign scotch snap figure – coming to rest, after all that, on a perfectly respectable cadence. The genius (or part of the genius)  of this last part is that the chant introit follows on entirely naturally and suitably. Having woken you up and chased any distractions from your mind, the motet brings you to the beginning of Mass.

I’ve listened to this about twenty times now, and it is only growing on me. Here is a link for your aural thrills. And for those who want to try this at home (and if you can seriously contemplate it, all I can say is – jammy gits), the rental parts are here.

I suppose an advantage Mahler had was that films had not yet been invented; his contemporary audiences  did not find themselves thinking of soundtrack uses as a way of describing parts of his symphonies.  The wonderful ginormousness  of the beginning of this motet would make it a fantastic sound track for some fantasy/sci-fi film.  It would probably make the film, in fact.

Only after it was over did I electronically scuttle off in search of the Cathedral’s music list