Russell Pascoe: Secular Requiem; Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Julien Van Mellaerts, Truro Cathedral Choir, BBC Nationwide Orchestra of Wales, Christopher Grey; Regent Data
Reviewed 30 November 2022 (★★★★)
A splendidly formidable undertaking from Truro recording Pascoe’s fascinating modern requiem, determinedly secular but powerfully expressive and really considerate
Many composers write sacred music for liturgical functions regardless that the composers themselves might not be a believer, in a way this merely displays the composer’s function as a supplier of helpful music. For some composers, their perception is a core a part of their expression, and a setting of any sacred textual content has a way of identification. But when a composer is an unbeliever and needs to discover the themes implicit in a few of the nice liturgical texts, then they’re introduced with an issue or a problem. Composer Russell Pascoe has risen to this problem by creating Secular Requiem.
In a vastly formidable undertaking, Christopher Grey (just lately introduced as the brand new director of music at St John’s Faculty, Cambridge) conducts Truro Cathedral Choir, BBC Nationwide Orchestra of Wales and soloists Catherine Wyn-Rogers and Julien Van Mellaerts in Russell Pascoe’s Secular Requiem, plus his Threnody for Jowan and A Sequence for Remembrance on Regent Data. Recording for the undertaking started in 2019, however was held up by COVID and the requiem was not recorded till 2022.
Pascoe wrote his Secular Requiem in 2012, discussing the undertaking with the poet (and retired medical educational) Anthony Pinching who helped assemble the texts. The libretto falls into 5 sections, The Proposition, The Recognition, The Response, The Transition, and The Lodging which mirror the 5 phases of grief. The texts are diverse, John Donne, Wilfred Owen, Thomas Hardy, Robert Louis Stevenson, Dylan Thomas, Kakinomoto no Hitomaro, Thomas Moore, Stephen Anderton, Rabindranath Tagore, Walt Whitman and Anthony Pinching. It’s a choice that’s considerably measured, there’s contemplation, reflection and humour, and while there’s some anger, Dylan Thomas’ ‘rage in opposition to the dying of the sunshine’, this isn’t an indignant work. You’re feeling that if Pascoe had been impelled to jot down a setting of the liturgical textual content, he would have omitted the Dies Irae, like Faure and Durufle.
We start with a quietly intense setting of John Donne’s No man is an island, and right here as in lots of locations, Pascoe makes use of the orchestra to color and touch upon the refrain contribution quite than attempting to dominate. A Wilfred Owen setting follows I noticed his spherical mouth’s crimson, an pressing solo for baritone Julien Van Mellaerts and the primary part ends with a chorus, Peace, my coronary heart, utilizing a fraction of Tagore that may reoccur all through the piece.
The second part begins with a duet for the 2 soloists, The Going, setting Thomas Hardy. The music right here is vividly pressing although Pascoe does appear to search out the wordiness of Hardy’s textual content one thing of a problem. Requiem, setting Robert Louis Stevenson, is a superbly realised and heat setting that makes use of the choir unaccompanied at first, as if this was a part-song, solely progressively bringing the orchestra in. There’s something timeless about this setting, and it will definitely work by itself.
The third part begins with a choral setting of Dylan Thomas’ Don’t go light, and right here it’s the orchestra that makes the primary impression with vivid anxiousness, mirrored by the choir. There’s a lot placing phrase setting right here and a few terrific dramatic textures, although maybe not fairly the depth of anger I’d have anticipated, however the best way it contrasts the intensely dramatic with the quietly intense is placing. A setting of an eighth century Japanese poet comes subsequent (in a Twentieth-century translation), a considerate solo for Catherine Wyn-Rogers, the orchestra surrounding the Wyn-Rogers’ expressive arioso with traces and with a wordless choir virtually as a part of the instrumental line-up.
The fourth part is considered one of placing contrasts, maybe reflecting the totally different points of The Transition. First comes Thomas Moore’s The final rose of Summer season, from Van Mellaerts and the choir in a setting which avoids all sense of folkiness and the parlour, and it definitely makes you hearken to the phrases once more, significantly the final verse. The consequence, lyrically interesting and melodic, is placing and shifting particularly when so superbly sung right here by Van Mellaerts. Then comes Stephen Anderton’s Cats and Muffins which offers with the problem of loss with humour, the poem being the contemplations of the lifeless soul worrying about all she has left undone, with a repeated ‘Remember to feed the cat’ and a last anguished cry about leaving the truffles within the oven. It’s vividly carried out by Wyn-Rogers who clearly relishes the great alternatives for character that the piece offers her. Then, having teased us with bits of it, we get an attractive choral setting of Rabindranath Tagore’s Peace, my coronary heart. Right here the main target is on the choir, starting with some superbly clear singing from the trebles and lady choristers. The textual content ends with considered one of Tagore’s pretty photographs of a lamp, ‘I bow to you and maintain up my lamp to mild you in your approach’, finely rendered right here by the 2 soloists accompanied by the choir.
The ultimate part begins with a placing orchestral peroration, with a repeated timpani beat giving a way of marching ahead, striving onward. Come pretty and soothing loss of life is a setting of Walt Whitman that owes nothing to different composers’ approaches to this much-set textual content. Pascoe creates a nice, large-scale choral piece that interweaves choir and orchestra. We finish with considered one of Pinching’s personal poems, Seasons. The orchestral writing weaves in components from earlier within the work, that is positively a bit that has been thought of as an entire, quite than as a collection of separate components, and it’s pretty the best way Pascoe manages to maintain a commonality of strategy by means of the actions, while bringing loads of selection. This can be a finely crafted ending, although in locations Pinching’s lyrics really feel barely too wordy for Pascoe’s melodic strategy, and the work builds to a surprisingly radiant and constructive finish.
This can be a vastly formidable piece and one which faces the challenges head on. I’ve to admit that I’m not at all times fairly satisfied by a few of Pascoe and Pinching’s options to the issue of the secular requiem, however total this can be a considerate and intriguing work. There isn’t a doubt that underneath Christopher Grey’s masterly path, Truro Cathedral Choir offers an excellent efficiency, bringing actual maturity to the singing (with a choir that features 16 boy choristers and 17 lady chorister), finely supported by BBC NOW.
Pascoe’s Threnody for Jowan units Richard Madden’s poem Each leaf should fall, a finely expressive unaccompanied setting that was written in 1995 in response to the lack of the new-born little one of a detailed good friend. Touching and superbly rendered.
The disc ends with Pascoe and Pinching’s A Sequence for Remembrance, commissioned by Truro Cathedral for the centenary of the top of World Struggle I. It’s a cycle of unaccompanied choral items interleaved with actions for string orchestra. So the work begins with an intense prelude, then comes a setting of Siegfried Sassoon’s Reconciliation, a properly expressive half track. As ever with Pascoe’s writing, his means to form traces in unaccompanied music is finely completed. A vivid, but brief string interlude results in a setting of a verse from Binyon’s For the fallen labored into a really large-scale motion (over seven minutes). I liked Pascoe’s music right here, however should confess that I’d have wished for a textual content apart from the Binyon. It strikes from quietly intense to a robust climax after which unwinds, the choral repetitions bringing a component of sacred minimalism into the work, and lending it a hypnotic high quality, and there’s a pretty solo from Oliver Thorpe. The second interlude is in traditional English string music territory, pretty certainly. Lastly, there’s Pinching’s personal Transferring On, which kinds a placing choral climax to the work.
This disc is an excellent achievement for the cathedral choir, the most important such undertaking that they’ve undertaken and an enormous quantity of labor (the sheer studying, significantly for the girls and boys), but the performances give none of that away, all is poised, shifting and expressive.
When reviewing such modern works, I’m very conscious that it’s tough (if not inconceivable) to take my composing had off. My response to a piece is colored by my very own concepts of approaching that topic, these texts if I have been the composer. Right here, the requiem itself strikes into territory of actual curiosity to me, I’ve written my very own work for choir and instrumental ensemble that makes use of Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry to maneuver by means of the 5 phases of grief, and elsewhere I’ve set each the Dylan Thomas and Walt Whitman texts used right here. I did get pleasure from and respect this work, although inevitably my response right here shall be colored by my very own compositional ideas.
Russell Pascoe (born 1959) – Secular Requiem (2012) [49:13]
Russell Pascoe – Threnody for Jowan (1995) [3:47]
Russell Pascoe – A sequence for Remembrance (2018) [18:37]
Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo-soprano)
Julien Van Mellaerts (baritone)
Choir of Truro Cathedral
BBC Nationwide Orchestra of Wales
Christopher Grey (conductor)
Recorded April 2019, Might 2022, Truro Cathedral
REGENT RECORDS REGCD549 1CD [71:37]
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