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Choral Music Media Review Print

A Lovely, Quiet, and Serene New Requiem

January 31, 2016 - Easthampton, MA:

Dan Locklair: Requiem. Choir of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Winston-Salem, NC, Dr. John Cummins, conductor, Emily Albrink, soprano, Emily Hull McGee, alto, Jeffrey Ollarsaba, tenor, Richard Ollarsaba, bass, Matthew Brown, organ, and string ensemble of members of the Winston-Salem Symphony. Subito Music Publishing 88295 37078. © 2105. TT 38:36. $10, available from St. Paul's Bookstore and cdbaby.

This is a live recording of the world première performance given on All Saints Day, November 1, 2015, at the church of the performing choir. The cover of the tri-fold jewel-case insert and the face of the disk feature a color photo of a detail of one of its memorial stained glass windows, and the back face of the central fold carries a color photo of the musicians and some attendees taken from the rear balcony during the performance. The sung texts are provided on the left and central inner faces in standard black type on white background with the personnel listed in white typeface on black background on the right inner face, whose reverse/outside features an April 2015 note from the composer about the inspiration for and composition of the work, also in white typeface on black. The choir consists of 14 sopranos, 10 altos, 6 tenors, and 9 basses; the string orchestra has three each first and second violins and two each violas, 'cellos, and basses.

The work is a combination of movements of the standard Requiem Mass, from a variety of English translations, and related Biblical texts from the King James Version. Thus it is somewhat parallel to those Johannes Brahms chose for his Ein deutsches Requiem, but in an Episcopalian/Church of England rather than a Lutheran context. It opens, like the Messa da Requiem of Giuseppe Verdi, with the Introit/Requiem prayer, and closes, like Gabriel Fauré's Requiem, Op. 48, with the In paradisium burial prayer and the Requiescant in pace ([May they/Let them] Rest in peace) command – present subjunctive 3rd person plural because the work is dedicated to the memory of both of Locklair's parents. (A few other words are made plural for the same reason.) The Dies irae (Day of Wrath), a major movement of the standard formal Requiem Mass, and of the Verdi one, is absent; as in the Fauré, it is replaced by the Pie Jesu (Merciful Jesus) prayer. The likewise strandard Libera me, which both Verdi and Fauré included, is not set here.

As was the case with Fauré, it was the death of Locklair's father that first compelled him to conceive the work, but he did not complete it until after the death of his mother nearly 20 years later (as Fauré did with his, but his mother died a mere 2.5 years after his father). Locklair subsequently worked on it for two years in 2012-14, in free periods between commissions for other pieces, and then revised it extensively and added the string orchestra from late December 2014 to Good Friday (April 3) 2015 (again, like Fauré's original version, which featured an organ, a few string soloists, and a harp as near as can be determined; Fauré added movements and instruments progressively before the version with full orchestra was published in 1901, but earlier performances, especially the first in 1888, were more intimate, even if the venue wasn't – the Madeliene in Paris, where he was organist from 1874 to 1905 [1st as assistant, under Camille Saint-Saëns, under Théodore Dubois from 1877, and head after 1896]). Locklair's can also be performed with organ alone.

The three biblical texts: "Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled" (John 14: 1-4), No. 2, "I Am the Resurrection" (John 11: 25-26), No. 6, and "I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes" (Psalm 121), No. 8, and one of the prayers, the Pie Jesu (No. 4), are sung by a soloist. The choir sings all of the texts from the Mass: Introit & Kyrie Eleison (the latter set in soloists and chorus call and echo form), Sanctus-Benedictus, and Agnus Dei, (Nos 1, 3, and 5,), and two of the prayers: the Lux aeterna (No. 7, set in canon form) and the concluding In Paradisum (No. 9). The music fits the text well, flowing, rising, and falling naturally, attaining its greatest heights at or near the ends of movements, as one would speak it, with some of the highest points occurring in words in the solo numbers such as "mansions," "for you," "come again," and "unto myself" in No. 2, "life," "live," and "never die" in No. 6, and "for evermore" in No. 8, in which the first two verses are treated as a recurring refrain, with the highest notes of the piece occurring at the end of its final iteration, on "heaven and earth," although the chorus occasionally builds to climaxes as well. It is all very effective and pleasing.

The work clearly follows the pattern created by Fauré, even launching in much the same manner, while adding some elements from Brahms' concept of turning the form into something more personal and consoling to those left behind after the death of the person commemorated, mourned, and laid to rest. The product was clearly conceived more as a memento or souvenir of the event of the première rather than for the commercial market: soloists' names are not listed for the numbers they are singing, and total time is brief for a full CD (although again, very close to the duration of the Fauré), and nowhere printed, for example. The performance and the sound quality are excellent, however, and the CD will serve the work well by allowing it to become known, making a good first impression, and therefore perhaps encouraging further performances, which it most emphatically deserves! It is a truly lovely setting.