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Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Requiem, Op. 63 (1896): Introit [8.03], Kyrie [4.40], Gradual [4.38], Sequence – Dies Irae [30.21], Offertorium [11.37], Sanctus [10.07], Agnus Dei et Lux aeterna [11.01].
The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan - excerpts (1879): Overture [7.53], Ballet music no. 1 [7.20], There’s a Bower of Roses [5.05], Ballet music no. 2 [3.17]
RTE Philharmonic Choir, Peter Kerr (ten), Nigel Leeson-Williams (bass), Frances Lucey (sop), Colette McGahon (mezzo), Virginia Kerr (sop – Khorassan)
RTE National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland/Adrian Leaper (Requiem), Colman Pearce (Khorassan)
rec. National Concert Hall, Dublin, Ireland, February, September 1994, DDD
NAXOS 8.555201-02 [59:34 + 44:55]

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It is symptomatic of the outrageous neglect of British music that this disc - a re-release of the 1997 Marco Polo recording of Stanford’s Requiem and excerpts from The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan – contains what is the première, and only, recording available of both of these great works.

The Requiem was written in memory of Stanford’s friend, the painter Lord Frederick Leighton, a figure well known and loved in the cultural scene at that time, who had died earlier that year (1896). It is a fairly conventional Requiem, using the Roman Catholic text of the Missa de profundis, but on a grand scale. It contains some utterly sublime and deeply moving music.

The quiet, calm opening could strike one as slightly dull and uninspiring, yet it leads to an exquisitely ecstatic climax three minutes in, when the choir sing "et lux" and then the organ and brass come in with a mind-blowingly grandiose and searingly beautiful phrase. The music is held back by the performance here – taken at a pace that feels far too slow, it is in need of both propulsion and of abandon – more fire, more fervour, please! The choir and orchestra get more into their stride a few minutes later and the gorgeously lyrical ensuing section is slightly less reserved.

The Introit is followed by a traditional and classically beautiful Kyrie, and then a return to the text "requiem aeternam dona eis" with the Gradual, before a stirring and fervent Dies Irae, which includes some superb singing from the RTE Philharmonic Choir (listen to the clout they’re giving it a couple of minutes in). This is a very operatic movement – particularly the "juste iudex" section and the dramatic "lacrimosa dies illa", and the orchestra and chorus give vent most satisfactorily in a moving and highly-charged performance. The first disc ends with an exhilarating and deeply passionate Offertorium.

The second disc opens with the gentle Sanctus – which includes the beguiling "Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini", and the work concludes brilliantly with the rousing "Lux aeterna" in the Agnus Dei .

Leaper is a persuasive advocate of this piece, and the four soloists, if not of absolutely top standard, are still very good. One feels that they lack panache in places and the words are not always particularly well articulated, but they at least attempt to communicate the spirit of the piece. The performance as a whole is a little sugary and insipid, yet the music is so glorious that this is easily overlooked.

Four excerpts from Stanford’s first opera – the three act The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan - make up the rest of the disc. This is appealing music if not always desperately exciting – the Overture and Ballet Music No. 1 are rather charming. I find soprano Virginia Kerr slightly harsh in the rather dreary performance of the song There’s a Bower of Roses - a slightly sweeter and more lyrical voice might be able to bring this song to life a little more. The Ballet music No. 2 is more interesting, lively and fun, with its slightly exotic inflexions.

It is the Requiem that one should purchase this disc for. I am convinced that it should be in the canon of great requiems, along with the Brahms, Verdi and Fauré.

Em Marshall

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