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Zdeněk LUKÁŠ (b. 1928)
Requiem (1992)
Antonín TUČAPSKÝ (b. 1928)
Veni Sancte Spiritus (1986)
Five Lenten motets (1977)
György ORBÁN (b. 1947)
Stabat mater (1987)
Cor mundum (1988)
Dresden Motet Choir/Matthias Jung
rec. St Peters Church, Dresden, 1-3 May 2008 and 25-26 April 2009
QUERSTAND VKJK 1232 [58.10]

In the eighteenth century it was quite natural that any composer in a Catholic country would compose settings of the Ordinary of the Mass, often a great many of them. In the nineteenth century the attention of composers began to move towards the Requiem, presumably because its texts were more attractive for dramatic music. From the twentieth century onwards it has become far more common for composers to set at least part of the text of the Latin Requiem than of the Latin Mass. Here we have yet another to add to that list, by Zdeněk Lukáš.
This is the second time that Lukáš has set the text of the Latin Requiem; his earlier version was for chorus and orchestra. His approach to the words is novel. He trims the text heavily, omitting much of the Dies irae, the Benedictus and most of the Offertorium. What remains is set in a sequence of seven movements which mirror each other in a fast and slow pattern. The omission of the passages in the Dies irae after the Tuba mirum leaves a rather unmotivated movement which seems to go nowhere. On the other hand, the Lacrymosa which follows immediately has an attractive yearning quality. The main problem is the lack of sheer memorability, although the melody of the Hostias is very beautiful. The rest is treated in a thoroughly tonal manner, and the overall effect is pleasant if not conspicuously engaging. Is not the problem really that the text of the Requiem has been so heavily worked over the years that - unless the composer brings a new slant to it, as Britten did in the War Requiem with the juxtaposition of the Latin words with Wilfred Owen - there is not much that can be done with it that is truly original? The performance is excellent.
The other works on this disc tackle less well-worn texts, with the possible exception of György Orbán’s treatment of the Stabat mater. The pieces by Antonín Tučapský are more elaborate in their style than the Lukáš Requiem, but some of the ideas the composer uses are dubious - in particular the choral glissandos in the Veni Sancte Spiritus (track 8, 2.54 and subsequently) sound more like token modernist gestures in the direction of Penderecki rather than a motivated response to the text. The Five Lenten motets are more straightforward, and all the better for it. The sound is gently bruising but romantic in feel, rather like Rubbra in fact, and the choir sing the pianissimo passages with lovely tone. Pater mi, the second of the motets, is particularly beautiful.
György Orbán’s setting of the Stabat mater concentrates rather more on the agony than the ecstasy of the sequence, but other than that it tends to lack a distinct profile. It also has a modern feeling and an advanced idiom. The effect is not unpleasant, and the setting of the Cor mundum, moving in block chords, makes a fine conclusion to the disc.
Regardless of the music itself, the performances by the Dresden Motet Choir under Matthias Jung are admirable. They are totally unfazed by some of the tricky harmonies they have to negotiate, and the tonal blend is superlative. They don’t sound totally convinced by those glissandi in Tučapský’s Stabat mater; then again, neither am I. Otherwise they don’t put a foot wrong, and the recorded sound is nicely distant and resonant.  

Paul Corfield Godfrey