Mozart ‘Requiem’ at Dunblane Cathedral

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Well, my first term with Stirling University Choir has now come to its conclusion with a lively performance in Dunblane Cathedral of Mozart’s final work, together with two other works by the Master, rounding off with Justorum animae by Lassus.

The concert, on the 218th anniversary of Mozart’s death (5 December 1791), brought together two works from that fateful year, together with a work honouring fellow Freemasons. The Requiem is an interesting work to approach, as it was unfinished at the composer’s death, and had to be completed by Süssmayr; for all the faults of this version, we owe a debt of gratitude to Süssmayr for completing it. (It would be interesting one day to prepare and perform the work in one of the other completions – perhaps the one by Maunder.)

Although it’s probably inappropriate for me to comment on how the concert went musically (that privilege has to be left to others), I’m really proud of the Choir for all their hard work and focus, that enabled what I think was an excellent performance. Well done!

The four soloists (Clare Tucker, Rebecca Afonwy-Jones, Warren Gillespie and Michel de Souza) blended well, and were a delight to work with, as were the orchestra, guided by its leader, Bernardus Buurman.

The programme began with Ave verum corpus, accompanied by strings and organ, chosen as a link to the last concert by the Choir’s previous conductor, David King. I’ve often thought of this as “perfection in 30-odd bars”. Gorgeous.

The City of Glasgow Symphony Orchestra performed Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music, a delightful piece that’s worth getting to know. Although financial constraints meant there was a rather small string section (43221), with four of the wind parts having to be taken by the organ, played by the Cathedral’s organ scholar, Steven McIntyre, it was definitely worth doing, if only for the gorgeous sounds from the wind and strings.

Basset horns were employed again in the main piece of the concert, the unfinished Requiem, and these provided the dark colour required for the opening movement.

This work is definitely one of contrasts, and not only in its composition. String bows almost caught fire in the ‘Dies irae’, with what must be one of the fastest performances of all time! The ‘Recordare’, described by Mozart’s widow, Constanze as one of his favourite compositions, was beautifully sung by the soloists – and it’s still going through my head!

At the end of the Requiem, soloists and choir joined together to sing Justorum animae by Orlando di Lassus (“The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God… they are at peace”).

So how do I think the choir’s performance went?

  • They responded really well, with conviction and passion, and sensitivity to the texts.
  • I think there were good fugal entries and generally well-supported singing.
  • The weakest moment was probably the beginning of the Lassus, with momentary insecurity, but it quickly recovered. And having only seven tenors meant that the “ne absorbeat” entry was a bit weak (although they were giving all they had!).
  • The best bits, I think, were the exciting ‘Kyrie’ and ‘Dies irae’, and the Offertorium movements, ‘Domine, Jesu Christe’ and ‘Hostias’, which portrayed a range of styles and emotions from dance to terror to confident hope.

Performers

Clare Tucker soprano
Rebecca Afonwy-Jones mezzo-soprano
Warren Gillespie tenor
Michel de Souza baritone
Stirling University Choir
City of Glasgow Symphony Orchestra (Bernardus Buurman leader)
Alistair Warwick  conductor

Was anyone reading this (if anyone is reading this!) at the concert? Please comment below.

“Towards a New Narrative”: Symposium on Scottish Sacred Music

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Well, I’m now preparing for the forthcoming Symposium on Scottish Sacred Music at Pluscarden Abbey, near Inverness, Scotland.

Over 150 people are expected to come to this Benedictine Abbey for the three-day event, which will include talks and recitals of sacred music from Scotland.
Day 1: Tuesday 1 September 2009: Mediaeval & Renaissance Scottish Sacred Music up to 1560
My own paper will be on other renaissance polyphony from 16th-century Scotland (i.e. not music by Robert Carvor/Carver, whose work will be dealt with by Jamie Reid-Baxter), especially music from the Wode Partbooks and the Dunkeld Music Book , including music by David Peebles. Some of this will draw on my MMus dissertation (University of Surrey, 1998) and my article “Musick fyne” (first appeared in Church Music Quarterly, June 2005).

Other papers that day will be given by Warwick Edwards (“Mediaeval Chant Manuscripts from St. Andrews Cathedral and Inchcolm Priory”) and John Harper (“The Bridge between Chant and Polyphony”).

The evening concert will feature some of the music from these manuscripts.

Day 2: Wednesday 2 September 2009: the period from 1560 to the early 20th century
Speakers include Douglas Galbraith, Elmslie Nimmo and Frances Wilkins

Day 3: Thursday 3 September 2009: the Modern Era
Speakers include John Bell, Graeme Hair and James MacMillan.

Further information
More details about the Symposium can be found on the Pluscarden Abbey website.

In case you can’t get to the Symposium (or wish to read up a bit about the music first), a very readable account of Scotland’s Music can be found in this excellent book by John Purser, offering a very readable history of the traditional and classical music of Scotland from early times to the present day.

As usual, your comments are welcome!