Ian VENABLES (b.1955)
Requiem, Op.48 (2017-18) [40:25]
John SANDERS (1933-2003)
Dedication (2003)* [3:01]
John JOUBERT (1927-2019)
O eternal God, Op.183 (2017) [4:38]
Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937)
God mastering me (1921-2, ed. Ian Venables, 2015) [3:20]
O Sing Aloud to God (1994) [7:32]
Jonathan Hope (organ)
Catherine Perfecta (alto); Arthur Johnson, Charles Lucas, Alex Taylord
(treble); Matthew Clarke (baritone)
Choir of Gloucester Cathedral/Adrian Partington
rec. 2019, Gloucester Cathedral, UK
Texts and translations included.
All works first recordings except Sanders
Reviewed as 24/96 press preview.
In the expectation of the kind of contemporary choral music which maintains
a sense of continuity with the past, yet with a style of its own, I
signalled an interest in this recording when it was announced. Here it is,
and, yes, it lives up to my expectations. As I wrote in
Ian Venables’ The Song of the Severn (Signum), his music stands in
a clear line of descent from Vaughan Williams, especially On Wenlock Edge, and Ivor Gurney (Ludlow and Teme) and,
through and beyond them, with the music of the past. Acknowledging the line
of descent from VW, Ian Venables also mentions Finzi and Tippett. I hear
more of the first two, slightly less of Tippett.
That’s a clear recommendation for me for that earlier recording. Better
still, the Requiem on the new recording is enshrined in a
programme of music by composers who, with one exception, have a personal
connection to Ian Venables.
That one exception is John Sanders’ Dedication, and there the link is with
Gloucester Cathedral, where the composer was Adrian Partington’s
predecessor as organist and Master of the Choristers. The Joubert
connection is that Venables studied with him for a time and the influence
of Gurney’s poetry and music is interwoven through all his music that I
have reviewed before.
How does a modern composer write a Requiem, with all the centuries
of tradition behind it? The prerequisite would ideally seem to be a work
which is both new and aware of the influences of the past. I’m reluctant to
name an influence on the Venables Requiem, but I must mention the
Fauré and Duruflé. Both those works omit the less endearing sections of Dies Irĉ and Venables includes only the Libera me, though
not, surprisingly, In Paradisum. Like the Fauré and Duruflé, this
is a gentle, not a fiery Requiem, though it’s not without its
moments of drama. While I’m drawing the analogy, though in no way implying
that any aspect of the work is derivative, I found the closing Lux ĉterna, with its closing repetition of perpetua,
[light] eternal, as hauntingly beautiful as either of those works – and
that’s high praise, because I love both deeply.
As Duruflé found to his cost, if you write a work in the same spirit as
that of another composer, the danger is that yours will sound less
distinctive, and, for all that I love both works, they do sound very
The Venables is different enough to avoid that temptation.
I usually end a review of music that I have been hearing for the first time
by saying that I expect – or don’t expect, sometimes – to grow on me. On
this occasion there will be no need for the music to bed into my
unconscious; it finds a ready response there, somewhere
alongside the poetry of Wordsworth, Vaughan Williams’ Tallis Fantasia, Finzi’s Dies natalis and the poetic
prose of Traherne which inspired it. (If you didn’t realise that I was
Jungian, you do now.)
What is difficult is to describe the music; for that, you really need to
listen to it, and most online suppliers allow short samples of each
section. Subscribers to
Naxos Music Library
can stream it there. Alternatively, you could read Venables own words about
this recording, an interview available on the
Presto website. He explains there, for example, why he chose to omit the Dies irĉ sequence.
Venables reports that he found the Libera me the most difficult
section of the work to compose, and almost abandoned it until he realised
that the heart of the Requiem Mass is as much the prayer for the
soul of the living individual as supplication for the departed. (My
paraphrase.) At the
Reformation, this aspect of the funeral service became uppermost, with
prayers redirected for the living. In the event, the music in this section is at its
most varied and most passionate, with the words Dies illa, dies irĉ chanted in the background like organ pedal
notes underpinning the music.
The four shorter works which round off the recording do so in fine style.
The final piece, Venables’ O Sing Aloud to God, leads me to hope
that he will have more choral writing up his sleeve on a par with his solo
vocal works which have already made such a fine impression. I’m pleased to
see that he promises as much in that interview. For once, I didn’t even
feel that the shorter pieces should have been placed first; indeed, they
add extra weight to my recommendation of this first-rate recording.
There’s no rule that says that music can only, or even best, be performed
by the choir which inspired it, but this Requiem grew out of a
setting of the Introit Requiem Ĉternam, performed at Gloucester
Cathedral on All Souls Day 2017, where the whole work was premiered a year
later. Appropriately, the recording was made another year later, in
November 2019. If there ever is another recording, it will have to be very
good indeed to compete with this. I haven’t heard the earlier Somm recording
Venables’ Requiem Ĉternam, which was included on an album of music
for remembrance (SOMMCD0187), but it’s another mark of the dedication of
this label, along with Signum and Hyperion, to the cause of fine new music.
Our editor, John Quinn –
– was impressed by hearing the Requiem to the extent that he is named in the booklet as one of the
patrons of the new Somm recording.
My review copy came in 24/96 format (flac and wav). The recording is
excellent in that form; it’s also available in 16-bit and, of course, on
CD. I do particularly recommend avoiding lower-quality mp3 in this case.
I hope that I have whetted enough appetites for this recording to sell well
to all who love the British choral tradition. It certainly deserves to do
so. Does it meet the criteria that I set out at the beginning? Very much
so. The cathedral tradition is alive and well. Don’t hesitate.
If you are looking for a recording of the Duruflé Requiem – and
another sign of the health of the English choral tradition – I’ve been
listening to a nicely understated account from University College, Durham,
Choir, directed by Will Sims (Priory PRCD1232, with Parry Songs of Farewell and Stanford The Blue Bird). I’m far
from averse to an English choir in Duruflé, for example King’s, Cambridge
(KGS0016, with Quatre Motets and Mass Cum jubilo –
Late Autumn 2016) or St John’s (Double Decca 4364862, with Fauré Requiem, etc.) or
the Corydon Singers (Hyperion CDA67070, with Fauré Requiem), but
my first choice remains the composer himself, at budget price (Warner Apex
2564611392, coupled like the King’s).
And, for the Parry, there’s a superb new Hyperion from Westminster Abbey and James
O’Donnell (CDA68301, with Stanford, Gray and Wood –
review). You really need the new Hyperion and the Venables – apologies to your
bank overdraft department.
Marc Rochester ~