Marco Polo have, to their credit, tackled the complete range of formats of
classical music. Orchestral music has always been a strong feature of their
catalogue and to this has gradually been added opera, chamber music and,
as here, major choral-orchestral works. Their output has taken in
Stanfords Requiem and Havergal Brians Gothic Symphony
amongst much else.
Gerard Victory was a Dubliner born there in 1921. He was director of music
with Eire Radio from 1967 to 1982. He had various operas to his name as well
as four symphonies, the last of which was premiered by the Eire National
SO in July 1991. He is a composer using tonal material but with a stinging
imagination and happy to use effects adopted by more doctrinaire composers.
He is an accommodating eclectic as anyone listening to this magnum magnum
opus will discover.
Ultima Rerum (last things) is a vast pan-faith requiem aspiring to
one of the most elevated of subjects: life-death-afterlife. The cantata tracks
the line from despair in the face of icy death to joyous sinking into the
ecstatic light. Have we been here before? This is an extremely colourful
and spicily coloured work but the terrain has been explored before by Delius
in A Mass of Life and the Pagan Requiem - remember the calls
of allah-il-allah in the latter pitched against the cries of alleluia.
Deliuss confidence in negation and victorious nature however is not
the philosophy of Ultima Rerum. Victorys 100 minute work burns
with religious feelings and draws on the literature of a wide spectrum of
faiths and beliefs.
The 10 segments of this encompassing requiem are arranged around the constituent
parts of the latin Requiem. The segments are evenly divided across the two
discs. Woven among the strong and familiar fibres of the requiem is a rich
stew of extracts from other literature - all well judged. The streaming together
of words from various faiths reminds me of Delius and it is good to see that
words which inspired Delius are also chosen by Victory: Whitman and Flecker
(from Hassan). The final Agnus Dei drives forward questingly - juxtaposing
words from the requiem and the very Whitman words which inspired Vaughan
Williams in his Sea Symphony. The treatment is lighter than the RVW
occasionally leaning on the example of Messiaen and Ligeti-like wailing but
without the density and complexity of either composer. The work ends in a
satisfying and mysterious diminuendo and registers all the more effectivrely
for avoiding the cliché of the burning sunset and eternity!.
The work opens in mystery with Britten-like chirruping from the wind. The
second section is passionate. The opening of the second disc is notably jubilant.
A prominent part for saxophone in the Canzone is memorable chiming with and
introducing the solo contralto. Adrian Thompson generally heroic and secure
seems rather wobbly and strained in the later part of the Sanctus. However
he is wonderful in the best music e.g. Peace come away - a chimingly
melodious and serenading tenor. This movement has a steady-paced Holstian
stride like something from the Grecian Urn movement of Holsts Choral
Symphony. The In Paradisum has spoken segments similar to
Holsts Hymn of Jesus and the more mystical RVW. There is also
a hint of plainchant. This is a work of many pleasures and I am not going
to try to list them all.
Who knows perhaps this is a signal that before too long such works of potential
universal appeal as Foulds World Requiem (a work with a reputedly
overwhelming emotional impact linked with the dead of the Great War) and
Vision of Dante may be on the menu. While we are at it when are we
going to have fresh recordings of Leroy Robertsons impressively Hansonian
The Book of Mormon and first recordings of Peter Racine Frickers
Vision of Judgement (complete with superficial Belshazzar influences)
not to mention Arthur Blisss Beatitudes, Cyril Roothams
Ode on the Morning of Christs Nativity and that giant symphonic
tapestry Bantocks three hour setting of the Rubayyat of Omar
Khayyam. Forgive the usual wishlist.
Gerald Victorys own notes complete the picture. All the texts are there
with translations into English where necessary. The two discs are accommodated
in one of those clever double hinge single thickness cases. I wish more
manufacturers would use them.
To return to Victory let me recommend this splendidly detailed multi-faceted
and emotionally rewarding work and recording. It has a vitality and emotion
that only occasionally is apparent in Brittens Spring Symphony
(another anthology work) and is brighter though more diffuse than
Rubbras Sinfonia Sacra. Its colourful and passionate approach
to orchestration and word -setting place it on a similar plane to the choral
works of William Mathias (Lux Aeterna, This Worldes Joie and
Worlds Fire) and George Lloyd (Vigil of Venus and
Symphonic Requiem). There are some grippingly beautiful passages which
might put you in mind of Rutters Requiem although there is a
depth here which is missing from the always gorgeous Rutter. Perhaps
Howells three great choral works (Hymnus Paradisi, Missa Sabrinensis,
Stabat Mater) are better parallels.