Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Allegri's Miserere Mei (Psalm 51): Ash Wednesday 1990

Professional recordings and broadcasts of cathedral choirs abound, and there is some excellent work being done by The Archive of Recorded Church Music to preserve historic recordings, especially the BBC broadcasts of Choral Evensong. Some record labels have also taken to re-releasing older recordings which they either own, or to which they have bought the rights. In our case, all of these are listed in our discography.

However, alongside the official recordings, over the years individuals have been known to smuggle tape, minidisc and digital recorders into services, whether to capture a son or daughter's first or last solo, a premiere performance, a final service, or for a variety of other reasons. Such recordings are not always flawless, but they serve to offer an true representation of what happens on a daily basis.

Allegri's Misereri mei, a setting of psalm 51, is widely known in choral music circles because of the top Cs demanded of one of the treble soloists and the myths surrounding its early performances in the Sistine Chapel (a fascinating account by Ben Byram-Wigfield of many of the historical details can be found here). It is the set psalm for Ash Wednesday, and Allegri's setting is frequently reserved for this annual occasion.

This recording was made by the parent of one of the soloists (presumably the top C singing treble) during Evensong on Ash Wednesday (28 February), 1990. To remind us that the choristers exist outside the cathedral, please remember that the solo is being sung by a boy aged somewhere between 11 and 13 after early morning instrumental and choir practices, a full day at school and - as it was a Wednesday - at the time, double games, or sporting fixtures during the afternoon.


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