Paul CARR (b. 1961)
Requiem For An Angel - for mixed voice choir and orchestra (Requiem Aeternam; Pie Jesu; Chorale - Let Mine Eyes See Thee; Sanctus; Agnus Dei; Song - Do I Love You; Kyrie; Lux Aeterna) (2005/6)* [50:54]
I thank You God for this amazing day [9:42]
Holding The Stars (2009/10) [5:51]
Now Comes Beauty (2010) [4:44]
*Sophie Bevan (soprano); *Mark Stone (baritone)
Chorus Angelorum; Bath Philharmonia/Gavin Carr
rec. 23-24 August, 2010, St-Jude-on-the-Hill, London. DDD
Latin/English texts and English translations included
world première of Requiem
STONE RECORDS 5060192780048 [71:37]

Requiems are very much in fashion these days among British composers. There’s the very fine setting by John Rutter (review) and more recently we’ve had recordings of Requiems by Humphrey Clucas, Howard Goodall (review) and Sir Philip Ledger. Still awaiting recordings are the new settings by Bob Chilcott and Gabriel Jackson, both of which I’m eager to hear.

Paul Carr wrote his Requiem in response to the death of his mother, though I must admit that I am very slightly confused by his booklet note in which he implies that the composition was his way of dealing with her passing, yet it appears that the initial score was actually completed a week before her death. It matters little. What is clear is that the work, which was prompted by a commission from an amateur choir of which his brother is music director, is obviously a sincere and deeply felt response.

Carr’s Requiem pre-dates Eternal Light. A Requiem by Howard Goodall but, like Goodall, Paul Carr has chosen to write a work that is primarily consolatory in tone and he and Goodall also have in common that they range for the texts that they set much more widely than the Requiem Mass. Carr’s score sets some of the Mass texts and also includes words by Emily Dickinson, Jack Larson and Carr himself as well as a Victorian adaptation of words by St Teresa of Avila. With one exception, to which I’ll come later, I think the texts are well chosen.

The piece is in eight movements and gets off to a good start with a melody for the words ‘Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine’, that lodges insidiously in the mind. I’m a little less sure about Carr’s decision to re-state the melody boldly and loudly a couple of minutes into the movement, with unison choir and full orchestra. To me it sounds a bit too obvious and also, shall we say, a bit too confident, given the words and the context. I’m even less convinced by the jaunty, very rhythmic music that we hear shortly afterwards at ‘Te decet hymnus’; this seems to me wholly inappropriate to the words, but once that’s past the remainder of the movement is reassuring and lyrical in tone; it’s also very likeable.

A setting of ‘Pie Jesu’ follows and here we encounter soprano Sophie Bevan for the first time. She makes a very favourable impression and Carr gives her some good material to sing. It seems that few, if any, composers are able to resist using a female soloist when setting this text. It would be nice to find some composers willing to break the “Fauré mould”. But Carr’s response to the text is a good one. Even better, I think, is his third movement, a Chorale for baritone solo and chorus, setting the adapted words of St. Teresa. Carr’s music is genuinely touching.

The Sanctus is also a success. The music dances joyfully and Carr’s decision to use tom-toms in the scoring is nothing less than inspired, for this fairly simple touch really emphasises the joyous nature of his strongly rhythmic music. After a gently affecting setting of the Agnus Dei, into which some lines by Emily Dickinson are skilfully interwoven, we come to the sixth movement.

Entitled ‘Song – Do I Love You’, this is the movement about which I have doubts. The text is a couple of stanzas from a poem by the American, Jack Larson (b. 1928). Emotionally, I can see exactly why Paul Carr included this movement for it has important personal connotations, which he explains in the booklet. I’m afraid, however, that I find both the text and the music overly-sentimental and I think the movement is too much of a good thing. I realise that this is a very subjective judgement, which others may not share. I also acknowledge that I might feel differently about the music if I heard it sung by another singer. Mark Stone, who sings well elsewhere in the work, seems to me to try too hard to be expressive – something I’ve noticed occasionally on other discs of his that I’ve reviewed – and the results seem overblown to me.

The penultimate movement is the Kyrie and it’s unusual to find a setting of this text positioned so late in such a work. Carr’s setting is quite impassioned and is followed by the longest and, in some ways, the most ambitious movement, ‘Lux aeterna’. There’s a particularly memorable and affecting moment of repose when the choir quietly sings in Hebrew the first line of a couplet from Psalm 133. Later on Carr builds the music, which now involves the whole ensemble, into a passage that some may think is a bit over-confident for its context. However, the music dies away to a quiet, consolatory conclusion, which is much more apt.

I’ll confess that the first time I listened to this work I was not too impressed. I came away from that hearing feeling that Carr’s melodious, largely consonant music was rather like a warm bath and that the music doesn’t challenge the listener sufficiently. I mention that in case the piece has the same effect on others. If it does, I can only say that repeated listening has persuaded me otherwise. The piece is evidently sincere; it’s skilfully written, both for the voices and for the orchestra; and Carr’s natural, melodious style makes the work readily accessible. Though I haven’t seen a score I should imagine that the work lies well within the compass of a good amateur choral society and if this CD catches on, as it probably will, then more performances are likely to result, which is surely the raison d’être of this recording – and rightly so.

The performance is a good one. Both soloists are effective – despite my one reservation about the baritone – the choir do a fine job, as does the orchestra, and Gavin Carr conducts his brother’s music with evident commitment. The recorded sound is good but I must voice one concern. The choir, which I suspect is a pick-up group, numbers just thirteen singers, Frankly, it defies belief that they could be so easily heard against an orchestra that numbers forty players – including timpani and three percussionists – without a good deal of intervention on the part of the engineers. That’s especially the case in passages, such as in the Sanctus and Agnus Dei where the orchestral writing is particularly loud and full, I would much rather have heard the work sung by a larger choir – say forty voices - but one that is more credibly balanced against the band.

To complete the disc we’re offered three shorter choral works, all of which are very well done. I was especially struck by Holding The Stars, a setting of words that the composer himself wrote when copyright issues prevented him from setting James Agee’s Sure on this Shining Night. The music seems to me to carry – beneficially – the influence of Samuel Barber. It’s a fine piece of unaccompanied choral writing and, actually, I think this is the best music on the disc.

John Quinn

A first recording of an accessible, recent Requiem by a British composer.

and a second opinion from Rob Barnett ...

Cornish-born composer Paul Carr already has a substantial work-list. This includes concertos for piano, viola, clarinet, oboe and flute. Rather like Carey Blyton he also does a good line in catchily memorable titles – always a strong suit: Jazz Cardigans (for guitar), Diverting Sundays (for wind quintet), Forbidden Waltz (for bassoon and piano), Running With Dogs (for clarinet and piano) and Very English Music (for string orchestra). His Air for string orchestra (Naxos) and a couple of pieces for flute and piano (Cameo) have been recorded.

His Requiem is smooth, certainly romantic and more than a touch sentimental. This is not ivory tower music but is accessible to the widest range of sympathetic ears. It speaks to everyone in its sharing of loss and exaltation through sorrow and consolation. The idiom resides in the bailiwicks of John Rutter and Herbert Howells though the tonal complexity of the Howells is not what Carr is about. Other names come to mind – Patrick Larley and Ian Venables – though on this evidence his music is not as profound as either. The Requiem has none of the anger of more savage examples – there’s no Dies Irae, for a start. The companion pieces are broadly in the constituency of Delius and of Stanford's Bluebird. These in no way disappoint and belong most comfortably and comfortingly in the English lyric tradition allowing for glances towards film music – in which he has experience – Saving Private Ryan and John Barry. Balmy, honey-honed consolation is in the ascendant - no rasp, no tremor. Words are printed in full in the booklet with background notes from the composer.

Rob Barnett

Balmy, honey-honed consolation is in the ascendant.

comment received

I just wanted to respond to John Quinn's review of my new disc "REQUIEM FOR AN ANGEL" - basically to thank him for a very intelligent and thoughtful review, but also to take up issue with two points. Firstly, I don't understand his mild attack on the 6th movement "Do I Love You" - I think that Mark Stone sings it exquisitely and that the performance and the movement as a whole are in no way overblown.

As for his thoughts on the choir - it was a group of 17 choral soloists from amoungst the very best this country has to offer, not 13 as mentioned in his review. Although in the editing process a general balance is artificially enhanced, as with all recordings, the 17 solo choral singers in this case had such a vibrant and rich quality of sound, that the editing of balance is no different had the choir been a massed chorale of 40 standard choir singers, it's more a matter of quality of sound. I wanted, and I think gloriously obtained, a much higher quality of sound that you simply don't get with massed choirs. This choir - Chorus Angelorum, all of whom work regularly together in professional choirs such as The Sixteen, Polyphony, and The Monteverdi, create a much richer sound than could ever be created by a massed choir of 40 standard choral singers; their sight-reading ability is extraordinary and the end result, for me anyway, much better than any standard choir could ever deliver.