CD Review of Requiem by James Manheim
For All Music
Ian Venables is known mostly as a composer of songs and chamber music; vocal and choral composers go together in the output of many composers, but not in his. His Requiem, Op. 48 (the use of the old opus numbers convention is a clue to Venables’ traditionalist orientation), is a commissioned work. It took shape over several years, almost reluctantly at first, according to the composer, and this seems to show in the final result. The music goes through a wide variety of moods before ending with a warm, consoling, and ultimately radiant Lux aeterna. This is not a fault but makes Venables play to his strengths. The music is highly text-based (not easy for a Catholic mass), and he responds to the texts in detail as a song composer would. There is no Dies irae and no In paradisum, perhaps in line with the French models Venables looked to for the work, but the role of implacable death is filled by the Libera me, and this movement again illustrates the role of song writing in Venables’ thinking. The organ plays a key role, here and elsewhere, that is much more than accompanimental. There are many pure melodies in that work that hang in the mind afterward, and they combine with a shifting atmosphere that holds the listener’s attention at every moment. The Gloucester Cathedral Choir under Adrian Partington has sung parts of the work in the past and have learned to live in it, and the engineering, from Gloucester Cathedral itself, is top-notch. This is an important new setting of the requiem mass.