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RECORDING OF THE MONTH
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Timothy HAMILTON (b.1973)
Ilona Domnich (soprano), Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano), Nicky Spence (tenor), David Stout (baritone)
Ian Tindale (organ)
Rosenau Sinfonia/Timothy Hamilton
rec. 2015, St.Jude-on-the-Hill Church, London. NAXOS 8.573849 [63:08]
The composer himself has written the excellent booklet notes for this CD, from which we learn that the work was commissioned by Deborah Stuart, a parishioner at St. John’s Wood Church in London. She had been at a Christening service there where she heard one of his anthems being performed, and had been sufficiently impressed to ask him to compose a larger scale work on the themes of war and remembrance.
When Timothy Hamilton’s daughter Molly grows up, he will be able to point out this work to her as being intimately related to her Christening!
I have not heard any other works by him, but if this work is anything to go by, his style is traditionally tonal and melodic. It suits this piece very well, and I hope that this requiem will become popular - it certainly deserves to be.
The opening is as striking as it is appropriate, acting as a bidding prayer of remembrance. It is purely orchestral, beginning with a short French horn solo - which immediately struck me as being a ‘Last Post - followed by harp and strings. The music is calm at first, slowly becoming more melodic and impassioned. As it descends into a moment of silence, the choir enters, singing a text by Isaac Watts, “Give us the wings of faith’”.
Then, with the introit beginning the Requiem Mass proper, the organ and orchestra enters followed by the excellent soprano, Ilona Domnich, first singing solo and then together with the choir. Beautifully melodic, yet appropriately sombre for the words “Requiem Šternam”. I recall praising Ms. Domnich on her recording of the music by Vaughan Williams to ‘Scott of the Antarctic’ on Dutton CDLX7340 Scott of the Antarctic (review).
Then to the Kyrie, sung by chorus with organ and orchestra – a flowing melody that leads into the next section, in which the composer inserts an Anglican Chant setting of the 91st Psalm. The words of the psalm are undoubtedly very fitting and the fine performance managed to transport me back to the days of my childhood, when each Sunday morning was filled with a service which seemed to consist of one chanted psalm after another. I am afraid the experience, repeated for several years, left me distinctly unreceptive to hearing psalms sung in this way.
Anyway, things soon change with the unaccompanied chorus singing the short Hostias followed by the Sanctus in which the very fine tenor, Nicky Spence, is joined by the orchestra, chorus and organ. It is a flowing, tender piece until at its end, the Hosanna in excelsis becomes animated, almost martial (side drums) and chorus triumphal. The Benedictus begins with a short, plangent orchestral introduction and then all three soloists enter, and we hear mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnston and baritone David Stout, both first-class. When we reach the Hosannas, the tone becomes briefly triumphant with drums playing a quite notable role.
The Agnus Dei is very lyrical and rich with the mezzo and tenor accompanied by organ and orchestra. Interestingly, it is followed by an eight-minute orchestral interlude entitled “Lest We Forget”. It uses material derived from the preceding sections as well as introducing new ideas. The composer wants it to function as a “focal point for the work, taking the listener on an emotive journey before delivering them to the final climactic three sections.” It is a very beautiful piece in its own right, showing off the composer’s melodic gift. It is followed by the Pie Jesu, sung by the baritone without chorus. Hamilton states that the intention is “to portray the image of a soldier praying for the soul of a dead comrade.”
The Libera Me, at nearly nine minutes, is the second longest sung section of the work and is for chorus, organ and orchestra. It is rather martial with the side drum prominent, becoming appropriately lowering and threatening at “Dum veneris”, giving way to a quiet prayer at “et lux perpetua”.
And so to “In paradisum” which, at twelve minutes it is the longest section of the work. It begins with a quiet instrumental introduction which represents the journey of the soul to heaven, pausing when a solo cello briefly hints at the uncertainty of the soul at the very gates. The soprano then takes the part of an angel singing “In paradisum deducant te Angeli” followed and repeated by the chorus, bringing this hugely enjoyable work to a fittingly ecstatic conclusion.
I see that I have not mentioned the excellence of the chorus, orchestra or organist; well I do so now, and suffice to say that they are all on top form.
The recording is very good, my only quibble is that I often felt that the soloists were placed a bit too far forward in the recorded acoustic. Giving them a little extra ‘presence’ is fine and is frequently done, but I think that on this occasion they could have been presented a little bit more discreetly.