> BURGON Requiem, Nuinc Dimittis 4703802 [JL]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Geoffrey BURGON (b. 1941)

Jennifer Smith (soprano), Ann Murray (mezzo-soprano), Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor)
London Symphony Chorus, Wooburn Singers, City of London Sinfonia/ Richard Hickox
(Recorded London 1981)
Nunc Dimittis

Thomas Hopkinson (treble), John Wallace (trumpet)
Choir of King’s College Cambridge/ Stephen Cleobury
(Recorded Cambridge 1996)
DECCA (The British Music Collection) 470 380 2 [54:03]


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The two works featured on this disc are symbolic of two aspects of Geoffrey Burgon's composing career. The Requiem represents the ambitions of the serious composer while the Nunc Dimittis sums up the extraordinary success Burgon has had as a composer of TV signature pieces and film music. The Nunc Dimitis may be only a three-minute filler but, together with the music Burgon wrote for the Brideshead Revisited TV serial, it is his most famous work. Played at the end of each episode of the early '80s TV adaptation of John le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, it was, if I recall correctly, accompanied by shots of Oxford’s 'dreaming' spires. The music has a dreaming quality as a boy's treble voice floats ethereally over slow moving, sparse textures. On this disc the 1996 recording, with Stephen Cleobury in charge of the Cambridge King’s College forces, is effectively atmospheric and Thomas Hopkinson's treble is certainly more idiomatic than a version made with soprano Lesley Garrett.

Hickox has recorded the Nunc Dimittis in his time but here tackles the meat of the disc. It was the Requiem that launched Burgon's career as a 'serious' composer with its successful premiere at Hereford Cathedral in 1976. It is a work very much of its time, mostly from the ‘blocks of textured sound’ school. However, Burgon eschews some of the more taxing compositional procedures then in vogue and has the courage to employ major and minor triads which, retrospectively, almost makes the work seem forward looking what with the likes of John Adams on the horizon. Although written when he was over thirty, it can be regarded as an early work for Burgon came to full time composition quite late, switching from a career as trumpet player (an instrument that features prominently in his work – witness the Nunc Dimittis). As such, it is extraordinarily assured in the way the orchestral, choral and solo forces are handled.

The same can be said of Hickox in respect of his control of the performance. There is a palpable sense of commitment from all concerned in this recording from twenty years ago, issued here as part of Decca’s new British Music Collection. It is difficult to imagine a more effective rendering. Jennifer Smith, in carrying the lion's share of the solo work, is magnificent in negotiating the vertiginous wide leaps of the soprano part. Of the other two distinguished soloists, Ann Murray confidently tackles what was originally conceived as a male role (although she is no stranger to the interpreting of male castrato and counter tenor roles in the opera house). Anthony Rolfe Johnson displays the authority you would expect from someone who pioneered his part at the premier five years earlier.

The recording sounds extremely well, coping effectively with the contrasts between the pianissimo etherealisms of the opening to the thunderings of the Dies Irae. In the latter, the antiphonal dialogue between the two kettle drums is stereophonic excitement at its finest.

Finally, you may wonder why a Nunc Dimittis appears on its own, shorn of a preceding Magnificat. Well it was written as a stand-alone but after the event Burgon was persuaded to write a companion Magnificat. Some thought the new addition stood stylistically uncomfortably with its partner, and although Decca could easily have squeezed it in (the disc is not generous in 'music minutes') maybe the Nunc Dimittis is best heard in its originally conceived form.

John Leeman

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