Requiem; O, Sing Aloud to God, Op. 19; plus choral works by Joubert, Sanders and Gurney
Jonathan Hope (organ); Catherine Perfect, Alex Taylor, Arthur Johnson, Matthew Clarke, Charles Lucas (voices); Gloucester Cathedral Choir/Adrian Partington
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD0618 59:01 mins
Best known as a composer of chamber music and art song, Ian Venables marshals significantly larger forces in his new Requiem for choir and organ. This fine recording from the Gloucester Cathedral Choir and organist Jonathan Hope, under the deft direction of Adrian Partington, offers a well-balanced and responsive performance that draws out the mystery and pathos of Venables’s score.
Completed in 2018, the work was conceived primarily for liturgical use and the traditional Latin text is used throughout. Venables’s score is by no means a radical reimagining of the Requiem, and the work carries strong echoes of Duruflé in both its recasting of plainsong and its rich modal harmonies. However, while not perhaps breaking new ground, the work offers a thoughtful and deeply-felt response to the ritual of the Requiem Mass as a site of solace and contemplation, and as a composer foremost of song, Venables certainly knows how to weave a melody. Among many moving moments, the spare and tender Agnes Dei is a highlight, while the affecting a cappella Pie Jesu features a remarkably assured solo from treble Arthur Johnson.
A number of freestanding works complete the disc, including Venables’s refreshingly joyful early anthem, O Sing Aloud to God(1993) and the all-but-forgotten God Mastering Me by Ivor Gurney, salvaged from obscurity and transcribed for performance from Gurney’s manuscript by Venables.
This is a highly commendable disc, luminous and majestic, and the recording is notably atmospheric, evoking the lofty reaches of Gloucester Cathedral while retaining a good sense of clarity throughout.