I use the above turn of phrase simply because this disc does indeed mark the end of an era. It is the last recording of the Westminster Cathedral Choir under the direction of James O'Donnell, now of Westminster Abbey (although I find it rather odd that it is under the Teldec label - usually, the Westminster Choir records for Hyperion!)
O'Donnell, like his forebears Richard Terry and George Malcolm amongst others, has maintained the strong combination of ancient and modern music at the heart of worship in the Cathedral, and on this recording we see some of the finest examples of recent commissions for the choir (as well as some other contemporary gems). Some moments in the title work come across as perhaps a little 'cheesy', but on the whole it is stylish, distinctive and sensitively rendered. It certainly makes out Roxanna Panufnik to be a competent and thoughtful composer, although I'm not completely sure about her claims that it is approachable by amateur groups...
The remainder of the disc is also beautifully executed, opening with a special re-arrangement of Colin Mawby's sentimental but effective "Ave Verum" and exploring a Mass by Edmund Rubbra as well as works commissioned from Herbert Howells ("Salve Regina," heart-wrenchingly written and performed) and William Mathias ("The Doctrine of Wisdom," which must surely be one of that composer's best liturgical works ever). It is also wonderful - indeed long-overdue! - to hear Arvo Part and John Tavener being sung by this choir: It would be hard to find a more technically flawless rendition of "The Beatitudes" or a more moving and gripping rendition of "Funeral Ikos" than those recorded here. Indeed, throughout the whole disc, O'Donnell's scholarly readings coupled with the distinctive sound of the choir make for a listening experience of the highest standard, and one worth purchasing for any or all of the works thereon.
This CD is dedicated to the memory of Cardinal Basil Hulme, Archbishop of Westminster and tireless champion of the musical standards there. It is a fitting tribute, and I am sure that the exceptional leadership of James O'Donnell will be much missed at Westminster Cathedral.