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
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.