GEORGE LLOYD - REQUIEM. Exon Singers. St Barnabas Church, Jericho, Oxford 01/04/00.
Written in the last year of his life whilst he was suffering from the heart failure which eventually killed him, George Lloyd's final work occupies a very special place in his output. The 45-minute Requiem is dedicated to the memory of Diana, Princess of Wales but it is hardly a grand public statement but rather a frail composer's very personal leave-taking. Completed in pencil in January 1998, the full score was not produced in ink until the beginning of June. Three weeks later the composer was dead.
Realising that he might not complete the work, George Lloyd decided not to score it for full orchestra, choosing instead the more intimate combination of counter-tenor, chorus and organ. . This lends the work an otherworldly quality which is unusual for a composer normally so earthy and immediate in his writing. The counter-tenor part imbues the piece with an archaic beauty normally the preserve of a composer like John Tavener. The organ writing in the piece is very accomplished (the composer collaborated with the conductor Matthew Owens, who had played George's organ works himself). Indeed, there are very few moments in the Requiem when one misses the larger spectrum of colour which a full orchestra would have provided, the work's own unique soundworld within the Lloyd cannon proving to be emotionally satisfying in its own right, especially in this valedictory context.
Lest we should think George Lloyd had totally forsaken his usual style, he includes some passages where his bluff Cornish good humour bursts in: the march-like tread of the Hostias exudes a Cornish fairy-tale atmosphere while the gentle strains of the intermezzo-like Liber Scriptus wouldn't have sounded out of place in the relaxed and tuneful world of the Sixth symphony.
The twenty-six strong Exon singers under their conductor, Matthew Owens, counter-tenor Tim Massa and organist Jeffrey Makinson all contributed to a very committed performance, demonstrating a high level of musicianship and giving the piece a memorable world première.
The Requiem will receive a second performance in Exeter on 28th July and Albany is planning to record the work with the Exon singers in the autumn of this year. I can recommend purchasing that CD when it becomes available - the natural, artless-sounding tunes with which Lloyd enhanced his works throughout his composing career sound all the more moving in this last creative burst before his Muse was finally extinguished. The highly characteristic "big tune" at the end of the concluding Lux Aeternam is especially poignant. That George Lloyd should have finished his life's work with a choral piece is very fitting in the light of his early operatic triumphs in the 1930s and his more recent success with the Symphonic Mass (1993). The Requiem's reduced forces may make further performances more financially viable than his more large-scale works and the subtlety and overall serenity of the writing may well win new friends for the composer from those listeners who normally shy away from his more extrovert, multi-decibel statements.
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