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Requiem - Music for All Saints and All Souls
Details after review
Gabrielle Haigh, Sophie Horrocks, Alice Halstead, Janneke Dupré (sopranos); Eleanor Warner, Abigail Gostick (mezzos); Alexander Walmsley, Christopher Loyn (tenors); Christopher Preston Bell, Hugo Popplewell (bass)
Matthew Jorysz, Peter Harrison (organ)
Choir of Clare College, Cambridge/Graham Ross
rec. Cathedral and Abbey Church of St. Alban, St. Albans, Hertfordshire, 17 February 2014 and All Hallows’ Church, Gospel Oak, London, 20 and 22 March 2014. DDD.
Texts and translations included
HARMONIA MUNDI HMU907617 [77:18]

Reviewed as 24/96 download, with pdf booklet, from eclassical.com.  Also available in mp3 and 16-bit downloads and from dealers on CD.

On the face of it a programme of music for All Saints and All Souls ought not to work: though placed adjacently in the calendar, the former is a joyful occasion, the latter a commemoration of and prayer for the generality of the departed.  In practice most of the music here, including the major work, Victoria’s Requiem, is for All Souls.  In any case, both days will have passed by the time that you read this review: I’m writing it on All Saints Day, November the first.

You may also wonder whether music from such a diversity of composers and periods would work.  If you choose this recording for the Victoria, widely and justly regarded as the greatest composition of a composer who rivals the great Palestrina, how do the English compositions fit in, especially the more recent ones?

The answer is that the CD is more than the sum of its parts and not just for All Souls Day.  I didn’t experience any dichotomy as the programme moves from Victoria in the late sixteenth century to Bullock in the twentieth and back to Dering in the early seventeenth.  Dering’s music, like Victoria’s, comes from the Counter Reformation: English-born, his conversion to the Roman faith on a visit to Italy meant that the 6-part works in his Cantica Sacra (1618) show a distinct Mediterranean influence which places them not a million miles from the style of Victoria.  His Factum est silentium receives as good a performance as any that I have heard, though I would also point to a very fine bargain from Christ Church, Oxford, on an anthology of Renaissance music (Regis RRC1320 – Download News December 2010).

Two of the tracks contain settings of the All Souls lesson Justorum animæ – the souls of the faithful departed are in the hand of God.  Thanks to recordings such as this we are beginning to appreciate the quality of Stanford’s music.  Though there are several very distinguished recordings of this work in anthologies of Stanford, including a notable bargain from another Cambridge college, St John’s, on Naxos 8.555794, I enjoyed hearing the Clare recording as much as any.

That’s true of all the other music here, but the major work, the Mass and other sections of Victoria’s great work, the Officium defunctorum, brings them up against some powerful opposition, almost too numerous to mention.  Without making direct comparisons, the two uppermost in my mind as I listened to the new recording were from Westminster Cathedral (Hyperion CDA66250 – review of alternative release, CDA30026) and The Tallis Scholars on Gimell (most economically obtained on a two-for-one set, CDGIM205 – Tallis Scholars at 30 – or in a 4-CD box, GIMBX301 – Bargain of the Month). 

The Hyperion recording benefits from the all-male Westminster Choir having been attuned ever since its inception specifically for the performance of music for the Roman rite, without the off-colour tuning that sometimes compromises their Spanish and Italian counterparts, and the Gimell from its being performed by a professional group.  In terms of sheer security of tuning the Clare singers cannot compete with the Tallis Scholars or in terms of making a ‘continental’ sound with Westminster Cathedral.  Nevertheless, though I don’t recommend the new album for the Victoria, I’d be quite happy to take this mixed-voice non-professional performance to my putative Desert Island.  There’s little to choose between the various members of the choir who take the top line in different sections of the Requiem.

I do hope that Harmonia Mundi are not abandoning the format, but there is no SACD equivalent so the only way to obtain this recording in better-than-CD sound is to download it in 24-bit.  At $20.87 as against around £11.75 for the CD (on offer at £10.50 from Presto as I write) and £9.19 from Qobuz for 16-bit that’s quite a mark-up but the music and performances on this album do benefit from the extra headroom.

Graham Ross’s notes in the booklet are short but to the point.

Eclassical.com give the timing for the Requiem as 44:14, but they have included the concluding Libera me, which they have also timed separately.  The correct timings are listed below.

While this would not be my first choice or even a runner-up for the main work, the Victoria Requiem or the other Renaissance music, it certainly doesn’t disgrace itself.  The programme works surprisingly well as a whole and the more recent English works come over well indeed.

Brian Wilson

Previous review: John Quinn

Track listing:

Tomás Luis de VICTORIA (1548-1611): O quam gloriosum (1572) [2:25]
Ernest BULLOCK (1890-1979) Give us the wings of faith (1962) [2:44]
Richard DERING (c.1580-1630) Factum est silentium (1618) [3:26]
Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988) Give me the wings of faith [5:30]
Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924) Justorum animæ, Op.38/1(1892? pub. 1902) [2:50]
Edgar BAINTON (1880-1954) And I saw a new heaven [5:14]
William BYRD (1543-1623) Justorum animæ (1605) [2:36]
Alonso LOBO (1555-1617) Versa est in luctum [4:34]
Tomás Luis de VICTORIA Officium Defunctorum (1605): Tædet animam meam [3:30]
Missa Pro Defunctis [35:03]
Officium Defunctorum: Responsorium - Libera me, Domine [9:14]

 




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