Review of Requiem by Robert Matthew Walker

Review of Requiem Op.48

By Robert Matthew Walker

The Organ Magazine

Of all contemporary British composers writing for the voice, none has a greater feeling for words and the appropriate nature of their setting, or a more complete understanding of the human voice and its capabilities than Ian Venables. What further marks him out as a composer of rare gifts is his creative imagination, hardly inferior to that of Benja­min Britten, not adopting a language that displays too great an influence of the earlier master.

Ian Venables’ new Requiem, performed for the first time in London at Holy Trinity, Sloane Square on July 2 by the outstanding choral group Evoke under its founder-director Victoria Ely, with James Gough organist, takes this signifi¬≠cant composer’s work a shade further. At this first hearing in London, it was clear, as the work progressed, that we were in the presence of a fine creative imagination: the third (offertorium) movement, following the Introit and Kyrie, is quite simp!y, a masterpiece of setting and of vocal writing. One may have felt that the succeeding parts of the Requiem do not quite maintain this impressive standard, but they never fall beneath a compelling creative musical argument and development. At this first hearing, one may also have wished for a slightly greater variety in terms of the tempos of individual movements, the inherent low tempos of the Agnus Dei, Libera Me and Lux Aetema (such is the largely contemplative nature of their Latin texts) appeared a little lacking in variety of musical pulse, but this impression – only an impression – may have been created also by the spacious nature of the fine acoustic of this noble church.

In any event, of course, these can only be initial observations – what cannot be revised are the deeply-felt response of the composer to his task, and the moving impression made upon the large audience, rewarded by fine singing indeed of rare artistry. I understand that Venables’ Requiem is to be recorded commercially by these gifted musicians – a recording which will enable us to study this deeply impressive work in greater detail. It certainly deserves to be and one looks forward to renewing acquaintance with the work by way of the more permanent medium.

Robert Matthew-Walker, The Organ