This is the forth year in a row that the fine choir of St. Thomas, New York has sung Kenneth Leighton's Missa Christi (service webcast) on the Last Sunday after Pentecost (called "Christ the King" Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary"). I hope that it occupies this place in their music list for many years to come.
It's a thrilling piece, and one with some meaning to me personally.
The Missa Christi, Kenneth Leighton's last choral work, was commissioned in 1988 by my mentor at Christ Church, Indianapolis, Frederick Burgomaster. It was one of the first major pieces I accompanied at Christ Church in my tenure as assistant organist there (quite an initiation!).
Leighton grew up as a chorister at Wakefield Cathedral, and he said of his composition "In my music … I speak as one who comes from inside the Church." That may be, but this insider's voice is not a tame one. Even church "insiders" can't help but stand up a little straighter and be taken with the immense physiognomy of the Gloria as a whole and the incredible, layered density of the Amen at the end, catapulted by an organ chord from another harmonic dimension into that "vast expanse of interstellar space" where hosts of angels praise our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as he sits at the right hand of the Father.
The rest of the Mass is pretty nice too.
That quirky bass solo in the Benedictus was written for one of the basses of the Indianapolis Choir, whom I had the good fortune to know in my time there.
The clarity that emerges at the words "grant us peace" in the Agnus Dei is heart-wrenching.
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