Chamber Choir of St. Mary's Calne / Edward Whiting

David Bednall: Requiem

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It's difficult to decide what is more extraordinary about British composer David Bednall's (born in 1979) Requiem: its complete effectiveness as a musically successful, contemporary, liturgically functional Requiem, or the fact that although Bednall's musical language is unabashedly conservative, it sounds entirely fresh and free of cliché. His harmonic language is close to that of his predecessors in the British Cathedral Choral tradition, but unlike most of those who adopt that language, he is able to avoid the haunting influence of Howells, Vaughan Williams, Britten, and Rutter, and develop a voice of his own. Economically scored for viola, organ, and women's voices, the Requiem is notable for Bednall's sensitivity to the meanings of the texts of each of the movements, which he conveys not only in ways that fulfill the listener's expectations (i.e., In Paradisium is appropriately radiant and serene), but with an insightful creativity that brings out new levels of nuance in the texts. There are no missteps; each movement is aptly and beautifully set, with both sophistication and simplicity. The use of a viola is brilliantly appropriate because of its unique tonal capabilities, which can range from the most somber to the most luminous and several lovely movements are scored only for viola and organ. Bednall's text-setting is transparent and natural; this is a score that would not be beyond the reach of a disciplined amateur choir, but there is nothing about it that feels dumbed-down. The composer provides the chaste organ accompaniment, and violist Philip Dukes plays with warmly understated lyricism. The Chamber Choir of St. Mary's Calne, led by Edward Whiting, is made up of middle school and high school girls. They sing with purity, unmannered sweetness, and excellent intonation. Only in a few very high passages does their tone tend to get a little thin. Soloists Miriam Thiede and Rebecca Rothwell are very fine. This is a work that should be of strong interest to fans of new liturgical music and lyrical choral music.

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