Special to The Kansas City Star
You’ve seen the bumper sticker with the word “Coexist” spelled out in the
symbols of major world religions? It didn’t work that way in 16th-century
Which is one reason Blue Heron’s concert in Kansas City’s Catholic
cathedral Saturday evening, presented by Friends of Chamber Music, was so
interesting and important.
“Music for an English Cathedral” featured long unsung polyphonic Catholic
liturgical music performed by 13 men and women in five vocal ranges directed by
founder Scott Metcalfe. It included the six unchanging parts of the Ordinary of
the Mass and two votive antiphons honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The music is long unsung because in England the Crown destroyed as much of it
as possible in the mid-1500s. To be fair, it’s also true that Christians
everywhere persecuted other Christians, and almost everyone persecuted the
The reconstruction of England’s rich, sophisticated polyphonic liturgical
tradition is relatively recent, with English musicologist Nick Sandon making a
specialty of what are now called the Peterhouse Partbooks.
Blue Heron sang music of unearthly beauty from Sandon’s reconstructed
partbooks on Saturday night at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. It
was interesting because the composers are so obscure, and the scholarship
underpinning the music is important.
Blue Heron brought out the warm, affectionate character of Nicholas Ludford’s
antiphon “Ave, cujus conceptio,” which celebrates what are called the five
Corporal Joys of Our Lady. They were a popular subject in the country once known
as “Our Lady’s Dowry.”
Blue Heron’s Sarum plainchant Kyrie for Trinity Sunday was animated and
joyous, and Robert Jones, about whom almost nothing is known, wrote the rest of
the Mass parts.
Jones, possibly one of the most interesting unknown English composers ever,
writes music with a wide emotional range and plenty of masterful composer’s
His Gloria was refined, forthright, unafraid and filled with joyous trust in
God. Another example of Jones’ touch is the very moving, dramatic pause in the
music before the words “Et incarnatus est” in the Credo.
His contemporary Robert Hunt, who is even more obscure than Jones, wrote the
powerful Stabat Mater. It is a work that truly did “arouse compassion for the
This ethereal music almost seems a part of nature. It breathes. It’s
expansive and flowing in Blue Heron’s performance of it Saturday evening.
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