Thursday 15 August 2013

Christopher Wood - Requiem

Christopher Wood - Requiem
This new disc is a live recording of a new Requiem Mass by Christopher Wood, orchestrated by Jonathan Rathbone. The performance was recorded in a concert given by soloists Rebecca Bottone, Clare McCaldin, Ed Lyon, Nicholas Garrett with L'Inviti Sinfoni and L'Inviti Singers conducted by Paul Brough.

If you think about it, there aren't many large scale romantic requiems. Despite the attempts of choral societies and orchestras over the years, Mozart's Requiem with its sombre orchestration is neither romantic nor large scale. There is Verdi's Requiem of course, which brought the opera house into the church. And Faure's Requiem, though or course this latter started as a small scale piece and only grew into the full blown romantic work as a result of Faure's publisher.

Other 19th century figures had a go, there are credible requiems by Dvorak and Stanford, but none managed quite the balance of simplicity, melody and consolation that Faure brought to it. 20th century composers have tended to go back to basics. Durufle's Requiem, though for the same forces as the large scale version of Faure's Requiem, is imbued with the spirit of plainchant and it is plainchant which embodies Pizzetti's Requiem.

Christopher Wood's Requiem was written in response to the mixture of emotions generated by the death of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. To quote the CD booklet, 'If the people filing past the coffin had been a choir, what music would they have sung?'

Wood is not a professional composer, he started his life as a surgeon before embarking on a career in the pharmaceutical industry. His lifelong interest in music is reflected in his being a trustee of the Royal College of Organists. The requiem is in fact a collaborative affair, it has been edited and orchestrated by Jonathan Rathbone. Rathbone has a varied background: choral scholar at Christ's College, Cambridge, composition studies with John Gardner, member of  Swingle Singers and more recent background arranging and editing for a range of big names including Cliff Richard and Michael Ball.

Wood clearly has a great melodic talent and there are many passages in this work of great beauty, for instance the opening Introit and Kyrie contains of soprano solo which cannot be bettered (finely sung by Rebecca Bottone). It has potential to be popular with choirs looking for an alternative to composers like John Rutter, especially if a reduced orchestration was produced. My problem is that Wood does not develop his melodic material sufficiently. For a requiem to be consoling, there has to be an element of trouble and wood's writing lacks any suggestion of grit or dark undertow.

Wood sets the whole of the Dies Irae in nine movements and frankly, if you are going to do this you have to involve terror or awe. It starts effectively enough with the hushed choral cries of Dies Irae but thereafter there is too much which is simply choral filling. There is a glorious tune for Confutatis maledictis sung sensitively by Clare McCaldin but it seems to bear no relation to the words (while the wicked are confounded). I realise that not everyone will agree, I have had lively discussions on the subject with a number of other composers.

I think that one of the problems here might be Rathbone's orchestration, too often in the bigger moments Rathbone brings in the brass and makes the music too bombastic.

Wood sets the standard set of movements, Introit and Kyrie (though the texts are intermingled in a non-liturgical manner), Dies Irae, Offertory (O Domine), Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Communion (Lux Aeterna) and Libera Me.

The performance, recorded live, is exemplary, though the microphone catches some of the soloists a little too close and we get a bit too much vibrato occasionally. The result certainly does not sound like a first performance, and is full of confidence and bravura. Paul Brough conducts, ably in control and shaping the material.

Further information on Christopher Wood's Requiem including on-line sales from the dedicated website.

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