With his recent Lazarus Requiem Patrick Hawes follows
two traditions. One is that of the consolatory Requiem such
as those by Fauré or Duruflé, rather than the
more dramatic settings by the likes of Berlioz or Verdi. The
other is the tradition of incorporating into the Latin Mass
various relevant texts from other sources. I suppose Benjamin
Britten was the most obvious exemplar in War Requiem
but other composers have followed the trail he blazed. However,
to the best of my knowledge no one has previously combined a
setting of the Requiem with the story of the raising by Christ
of Lazarus from the dead. It’s an inspired idea and in
a way it’s surprising that this hasn’t been done
before - though it hadn’t occurred to me before, I admit.
The Lazarus story, as related in St. John’s Gospel is
such a logical fit with the idea of consolation in death rather
than “fire and brimstone”. Perhaps it needs a theologian
to make the link and the original idea for this work came from
the composer’s brother, Andrew Hawes, who just happens
to be an Anglican priest. Andrew adapted the Gospel narrative
for the Lazarus Requiem and also provided some original
The structure of the work is quite simple but very effective.
The sections of the Latin Mass for the Dead that are used are
essentially those used by Fauré - Requiem Aeternam, Kyrie,
Offertorium, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei and Lux Aeterna.
There are two differences from Fauré’s model: the
Hawes brothers omit the Pie Jesu and in the Lux Aeterna the
portion of the text that mentions Lazarus is left out since
that refers to a different Lazarus. These sections are sung
by the full choir and orchestra, joined in one or two movements
by one or both of the female soloists. Interspersed within the
movements of the Mass are six tableaux. In these the Gospel
story is narrated by a semi-chorus (here the Exeter Cathedral
choir) and the three soloists sing the words of Jesus and of
Lazarus’s two sisters. The accompaniment in the tableaux
is much reduced, consisting of muted strings, harp and, rather
oddly, a baritone saxophone; a quartet of horns is also used
to accompany Christ’s words.
Structurally the piece works successfully: the tableaux fit
well into the Mass movements. The music, while not desperately
innovative - and none the worse for that - is accessible and
melodious and sounds to be well written for the voices. The
music is directly expressive and communicates itself to the
listener. I should also imagine it’s rewarding to sing.
The performance, under the composer’s direction, is a
good one. Tenor Thomas Walker impresses in the role of Christ.
His voice is clear and well-focused, he projects strongly and
his diction is crystal clear. In the third tableau there’s
an ardent, high-lying solo for the tenor at the words “I
am the resurrection and the life” and Walker delivers
this passage with ringing conviction. In the next tableau, the
fourth, there’s a lyrical solo to what I presume are original
words by Andrew Hawes and Walker sings this with fine feeling.
The female soloists are good also. Elin Manahan Thomas has already
featured on two previous CDs of Patrick Hawes’ music (SIGCD162,
SIGCD178); on this latest disc she serves his music well. I
mentioned earlier that Hawes doesn’t set the Pie Jesu,
so often a source of soprano solos. Instead he gives his soprano
a significant solo in the Benedictus - as well as material
in other movements - and Miss Manahan Thomas sings this touching
movement very well. The mezzo role is less substantial but Rachel
Lloyd’s contributions are all very good. She and Elin
Manahan Thomas join the choir in the mellifluous Lux Aeterna
at the end.
The choral singing is excellent. Not long ago I heard the Exeter
Cathedral Choir on a very good disc of Psalm settings (review).
They’re on good form here also, delivering the semi chorus
part very well. This must have been a major assignment for the
Exeter Philharmonic Choir and they acquit themselves very well
indeed. Their singing is consistently assured, full toned and
sensitive and they provide an excellent advertisement for the
quality of amateur British choral societies.
Those people who think that recording is an artificial process
will have a field day with this recording for the choirs were
recorded separately from the orchestra and soloists. In that
sense it may not be a “true” performance but I can
assure readers that, in Eric Morecambe’s immortal phrase
“you can’t see the join” - or, in this case,
hear them. I’m sure there were good logistical and financial
reasons why the recording had to be made in this way and prospective
purchasers need have no fear that they will experience a recording
that is anything other than seamlessly integrated.
I can well imagine the Lazarus Requiem becoming popular
with choral societies and with their audiences for it is an
attractive, sincere and thoughtful piece. This very good first
recording should bring it to the attention of a wider audience.