> BURGON Requiem [HC]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Geoffrey BURGON (born 1941)
Requiem (1976)
Nunc Dimittis (1979)a
Jennifer Smith (soprano); Ann Murray (mezzo-soprano); Anthony Rolfe-Johnson (tenor); London Symphony Chorus; Wooburn Singers; City of London Sinfonia; Richard Hickox;
Thomas Hopkinson (treble)a; John Wallace (trumpet)a; Stephen Cleoburya
Recorded: Kingsway Hall, London, October 1981 (Requiem) and Kingís College Chapel, Cambridge, July 1996 (Nunc Dimittis)
DECCA 470 380-2 [54:03]


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Geoffrey Burgon is a versatile and prolific composer who has composed a great number of vocal and choral music including several large-scale choral-orchestral works of which the magnificent Requiem completed in 1976 for the 1976 Three Choirs Festival in Hereford is one of his first major achievements.

For his setting, Burgon interpolated the traditional Latin text with various texts by St John of the Cross, sung in Spanish. (Prior to completing his Requiem, Burgon had composed another work on words by St John of the Cross, Canciones del Alma (1975) for two counter-tenors and strings.) Burgonís Requiem falls into three large parts (Requiem Aeternam, Dies Irae and Libera Me) of which the Libera Me is the longest; and the work is scored for three soloists (soprano, countertenor [sung here by a mezzo-soprano] and tenor), chorus and orchestra with a fairly large percussion section, though this is used quite sparsely throughout the piece. Burgonís Requiem is mainly restrained and introvert, some sort of present day Fauré Requiem rather than of the more explosive, dramatic kind. In Burgonís hands, the Dies Irae is literally awe-stricken and avoids any big angry outbursts, such as are found, say, in Verdiís Requiem or in Brittenís War Requiem, although the music may still rise to some massive, transient outbursts. There are many gripping moments, such as the mysterious, dark-hued opening of the Requiem Aeternam; or the first stages of the Dies Irae progressively building-up towards the organís fortissimo outbursts. The third part Libera Me opens with a long monologue sung by the tenor (on words by St John of the Cross) leading into a second aria for tenor (again in Spanish). This is followed by the Agnus Dei in which the mezzo-soprano and soprano join for a beautiful setting of En mi pecho florido (incidentally also set by Petrassi in his Noche Oscura) whereas the chorus continues the Latin Agnus Dei. A short orchestral interlude leads into the Lux Aeterna, later leading into the recapitulation of the Requiem Aeternam. From then on, the dynamic level progressively thins-out and the Requiem ends with softly shimmering bell sounds and flutes fading away into the distance.

Burgon wrote a huge amount of film scores and of incidental music for TV series, one of the most famous being his score for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy after John Le Carré. The end music was a particularly striking setting of the Nunc Dimittis scored for one single treble voice, trumpet and organ (there also now exists a version with string orchestra) but no chorus at all, as the wording of the insert notes and of the back cover erroneously mention.

Hickoxís reading of Burgonís superb Requiem was much acclaimed when it was first released. Excellent soloists, all in fine voice, superb choral singing, splendid orchestral support and recording. It is good to have this wonderful performance available again. A small grumble however for the production of this release, as many other in this most welcome British Collection, is often rather sketchy and does not include the texts used in either piece.

Hubert Culot

See also review by John Leeman

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