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David BEDNALL (b. 1979)
Requiem (2007-8)* [54:26]
O come let us sing (2006) [1:56]
Salvator mundi (2008) [4:19]
Let all the world (2008) [3:45]
The Chamber Choir of St, Mary’s, Calne/Edward Whiting
David Bednall (organ); *Philip Dukes (viola)
rec. 6-8 May 2009, Marlborough College Chapel. DDD
Latin texts and English translations included
REGENT REGCD327 [64:29]

Experience Classicsonline


 

 
I remember hearing David Bednall play the organ on occasions when he was Organ Scholar at Gloucester Cathedral (2000-2002) but I don’t recall hearing any of his music during that time. He subsequently worked at Wells Cathedral (2002-2007) before taking up his present post as Sub-Organist at Bristol Cathedral. So it will be seen that he’s well steeped in the English Cathedral tradition. It’s relevant to know that in connection with the music on this CD. So too is it important to know that his distinguished organ teachers have included David Briggs and Naji Hakim, both of who must have played a role in imparting to him the influence of French organ music. The last relevant connection is with The Queen’s College, Oxford, where he was Organ Scholar immediately before coming to Gloucester. There he met Edward Whiting, the current Director of Music at St. Mary’s School, Calne, who was also an Organ Scholar at the college.
 
It was Whiting who suggested to Bednall that he might write a Requiem for the St Mary’s choir and what began as a Missa Brevis in 2007 had been expanded by the following year into a twelve-movement Requiem, lasting some fifty-five minutes.
 
I’m not going to beat about the bush. David Bednall’s Requiem is, in my view, one of the most beautiful, imaginative and moving pieces of modern choral music that I have heard for quite some time. Had I read the composer’s very good notes before listening for the first time I would probably have been prejudiced in the work’s favour from the outset for he tells us that two works that he greatly admires are Duruflé’s Requiem and Hymnus Paradisi by Howells. Both of these lovely, luminous works are pieces that I admire and love greatly and it’s evident that Bednall has been inspired in a wholly beneficial way by these two masterpieces. Yet his Requiem is far from a pastiche of either. He’s his own man and the new work is shot through with originality.
 
One stroke of genius is the incorporation of a substantial part for solo viola, here superbly played by Philip Dukes. The viola and organ have two purely instrumental movements – the first and the tenth. Elsewhere, the viola, though it doesn’t feature in every movement, adds a wonderful additional timbre to the musical textures. The instrument’s husky, sensuous and often passionate sound contrasts tellingly with the chaste purity of the girls’ voices. Listeners may sometimes be reminded, especially in the opening Prelude, of the sound world of Flos Campi by Vaughan Williams.
 
I’m not sure if Bednall had Flos Campi in mind at all when conceiving his own work but as one listens to the Requiem one is conscious that this is a composition by someone who has an expert knowledge of French music – and not just the Duruflé Requiem – of the English choral tradition, and of plainsong.
 
Besides the presence of the viola the other signal feature of this work is the scoring for upper voices only. Quite a lot of the choral writing is in unison. So far as I could tell without a score the choir goes into no more than two parts except, perhaps, for an excursion into three parts in the ‘Agnus Dei’. If that sounds dull or restricted please rest assured it’s not. Bednall writes some beautiful melodic material for his singers – long, expressive lines are a speciality – and when the writing divides into parts the harmonies are invariably beguiling.
 
No praise could be too high for the performance of the St Mary’s choir. The choir comprises forty-eight singers, aged between 14 and 18. They sing with the most beautiful, clear and fresh tone. Tuning, diction and blend are all flawless and their commitment to the music is palpable. There are two movements that feature soloists. In the first of these, ‘Domine Jesu Christe’, Miriam Thiede sings very well indeed. She has a warm voice with a nice mezzo tint and I enjoyed her performance very much. Bednall follows Duruflé and, of course, Fauré in giving the ‘Pie Jesu’ to a solo voice, here the excellent Rebecca Rothwell. She has a challenging solo, for unlike the aforementioned French masters, Bednall, though he begins the movement in tranquillity, develops it to a passionate central climax , which is most exacting, especially for a young singer. Miss Rothwell is undaunted and delivers the climax with great assurance before managing the wind-down to the movement’s pacific conclusion very well indeed.
 
As you might expect, given that the composer is an expert organist, the Requiem features an extremely important organ part. Playing on the recently restored organ in Marlborough College Chapel, David Bednall is superbly inventive in his registrations, often providing wonderfully nasal, French-sounding reedy textures.
 
Every time I’ve played this work through I’ve come to admire it more. I have one slight question mark in my mind. On the recording the viola is well balanced against the organ and the choir. However, I do wonder how easy it would be to hear the viola in live performances, especially in some of the louder passages in which the instrument features.
 
I have no doubt at all that David Bednall’s Requiem is a very significant addition to the choral repertoire and I hope that this superb recorded performance will bring it to the attention of a wide audience and lead to other choirs taking it up. I should imagine it’s a challenging work to sing and a successful performance will require also the involvement of an expert violist and an equally proficient organist who has access to a top quality organ. I love the purity of the sound of the high voices and I appreciate that this is what makes this work so distinctive and special. That said, I would urge David Bednall to consider arranging the work also for four-part SATB choir. I readily acknowledge that such an arrangement would alter the sound world of the Requiem significantly but I’m sure mixed choirs would love to take it into their repertoire.
 
The three short anthems that follow the Requiem are all most attractive and Regent have done Bednall proud with excellent sound and a very well produced booklet. Anyone who is interested in choral music should try to hear this wonderful disc.
 

John Quinn
 

 


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