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ClassicsOnline Home » JACKSON, G.: Requiem / In all his works / I am the voice of the wind / POTT, F.: When David heard (Vasari Singers, Backhouse)
While the unifying thread which links these works is that of loss, the underlying focus is an uplifting celebration of life and love. Gabriel Jackson’s Requiem combines traditional solemnity with poems which embrace wide-ranging spirituality, resulting in images of light and radiant optimism. Contrasting poignancy of expression is heard in personal tributes from John Tavener and Francis Pott, while Bob Chilcott uses Pachelbel’s famous Canon to set Oscar Wilde’s Requiescat. Vasari Singers’ Great British Anthems (8.572504) was described as ‘essential listening’ by Gramophone.
By Terry Blain
BBC Music Magazine
By John Quinn
By David Patrick Stearns
Gabriel Jackson (b. 1962): Requiem
Bob Chilcott (b. 1955) • John Tavener (b. 1944) • Francis Pott (b. 1957)
Sometimes, when creating CD or concert programmes, one discovers a thread emerging from a seemingly disparate group of pieces that takes on a life of its own. Our starting-point here was the Requiem, a work about personal loss and how humankind in all its diversity prepares for and reacts to death. As the principal companion piece we chose Francis Pott’s searingly intense interpretation of the When David heard text. With the addition of two works by Gabriel Jackson, which both are extremely personal to members of the choir, the recording gradually assumed the mantle of a memorial, honouring specifically a close friend, an inspirational mentor, a beloved daughter, and more universally loved ones we have all lost. The underlying focus of our CD however is not one of mourning, but an uplifting celebration of life and love; we hope the listener may draw inspiration and comfort from the spirit and beauty of the music.
Gabriel Jackson was born in Bermuda in 1962 and studied composition at the Royal College of Music, first in the Junior Department with Richard Blackford, and subsequently with John Lambert, graduating in 1983. He is acclaimed particularly for his choral works and his liturgical pieces are in the repertoire of many of Britain’s leading cathedral and collegiate choirs. In 2003 he won the liturgical category at the inaugural British Composer Awards and won a second award, in the choral category, in 2009. He is regularly commissioned and performed by the leading choirs of Europe and the USA and in January 2010 was appointed Associate Composer to the BBC Singers.
Gabriel Jackson (b. 1962): Requiem
I have long wanted to write a Requiem and I am very grateful to the Vasari Singers for giving me this opportunity. My initial idea for the piece was to combine the solemn, hieratic grandeur of the great Iberian Requiems with something more personal, more intimate, even, that could reflect the individual, as well as the universal, experience of loss. So I have replaced the even-numbered movements of the standard Mass for the Dead with poems from other cultures and spiritual traditions so as to embrace a more wide-ranging perspective on human mortality than the traditional Christian one, though in the end all the texts express a similar view of death – that it is not the end but the gateway to a better world. The result is radiantly optimistic, suffused as it is with images of light.
One of the challenges for any composer writing a Requiem is to achieve the contrasts of texture and colour, of motion and stasis, that are necessary to sustain a multi-movement work when the overall mood is so restrained and reflective. I have tried to adhere to my original inspiration in that the Latin movements are more objective, more purely architectural in construction than those with words in English. Requiem aeternam I is largely slow-moving and homophonic; Requiem aeternam II is made of simple melodies and drones, while the final Lux aeterna is calm and sustained, full of hypnotically overlapping repetitions. The Sanctus and Benedictus is the ‘odd one out’ in this scheme, being a hymn of praise that makes no reference to death at all (though that is redressed by the interpolation of lines from Whitman’s When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d); as well as being the longest and most substantial movement, it is also the most animated, with the most ecstatic climax. I have tried to give each English-language movement its own unique character without seeking to imitate Aboriginal, Japanese, or Indian music. Epitaph alternates highly-decorated monody with simple block chords, culminating in a pantheistic susurration of nature-sounds and a prolongated stutter-rhythm as a musical image of eternity. Autumn wind of eve has an aerated texture, full of whispering wind-sounds, to reflect the heavenly evanescence of Ujimasa’s poem. Peace, my heart is, for me, the most beautiful of all the texts; the best a composer can do is to keep out of the way and try to give Tagore’s sublime words the reflective glow they cry out for.
Gabriel Jackson: In all his works
For over thirty years Allan Wicks was Organist and Master of the Choristers at Canterbury Cathedral. Jeremy Backhouse and I both came under his spell as young trebles and for all of us who were privileged to sing for him he was a uniquely inspirational figure whose charisma and musical integrity were profoundly influential.
In all his works was requested by Elizabeth Wicks for Allan’s memorial service which was held in Canterbury Cathedral last year. The extraordinary text might have been written about him, and in the piece I tried to achieve a little something of the solemnity, the joy and, at times, the ecstatic intensity that were characteristic of his great musicianship.
Gabriel Jackson: I am the voice of the wind
I am the voice of the wind was commissioned by long-time Vasari alto Elizabeth Atkinson and her husband Chris, in memory of their daughter Geraldine. Geraldine had just qualified as a doctor when she died of a sudden illness on holiday in Iceland in 2009, aged just 24. The words are by Geraldine herself, a poem she called The Spirit, which was written when she was only thirteen. It is a remarkable work, rich and profound, with beautiful images and a structural integrity that make it ideal for musical setting.
I have tried to capture its myriad moods, its mercurial evanescence, as well as its quiet inner strength, and to create a piece that is as celebratory as it is memorialising.
Bob Chilcott (b. 1955): Canon (Rosa Mystica) after Johann Pachelbel (1653–1706)
Bob Chilcott has been involved with choral music all his life, first as a Chorister and then a Choral Scholar at King’s College, Cambridge. Later, he sang and composed music for twelve years with The King’s Singers. His experiences with that group, his passionate commitment to young and amateur choirs, and his profound belief that music can unite people, have inspired him both to compose full-time and to promote choral music worldwide.
This moving rendition of Pachelbel’s Canon sets the Requiescat from Oscar Wilde’s Rosa Mystica (1890). Chilcott displays his sensitivity as a vocal arranger, exploiting the richness of the double choir format and the lyricism of the guitar accompaniment.
John Tavener (b. 1944): Song for Athene
Sir John Tavener‘s long career in composition has been informed throughout by his spirituality and his creativity is rooted in his Orthodox faith. Song for Athene was written in 1993 as a tribute to a family friend, Athene Hariades, a gifted actress, tragically killed in a cycling accident. The composer writes, “Her beauty, both outward and inner, was reflected in her love of acting, poetry, music and of the Orthodox Church.” The composer had heard Athene read Shakespeare in Westminster Abbey, and following her funeral came upon the idea of combining text from the closing scene of Hamlet with portions of the Orthodox liturgy. Each phrase is linked with an Alleluia with the whole piece set over an ‘ison’ or drone in the traditional Byzantine manner.
Francis Pott (b. 1957): When David heard
This work, written for the singers of the St Louis Chamber Chorus, was first performed by them in April 2008 under the direction of their British-born conductor, Philip Barnes. Choice of text was influenced by Philip’s enthusiasm for bringing together early seventeenth-century and contemporary settings of the same words: in this instance, Pott and Thomas Weelkes; yet the new piece had actually been commissioned by John and Gailya Barker in memory of their parents. King David’s lament for his son therefore lent a kind of inversion to this commemorative intent, while yet providing the vehicle for an aptly poignant order of expression.
First glimmerings of inspiration can sometimes take a highly improbable form; in this case, a cinematic one. I had an image in mind of the King in some crowded place, oblivious as grim tidings inexorably closed in on him. Beneath this, a shade bizarrely, lay some very distant memory of the 1949 Warner Brothers / Raoul Walsh film White Heat, in which, seated in a gaol refectory, a criminal psychopath (portrayed by James Cagney) asks after his mother outside, only for news of her death to be whispered along the length of the immense table, apparent by lip-reading long before it reaches its recipient. The fitful workings of memory had divested these characters of their identities, allowing them to blur into archetypes of human experience and take on a kind of pathos. I borrowed from the idea by detaching the words ‘Absalom’ and ‘slain’ from their place in the text, then allowed these to loom ever more ominously from the general rumour, at the same time clinging to an increasingly insistent B flat: a kind of eye of the storm. Later I discovered that Philip Barnes entertained a longstanding interest in James Cagney, in person a cultured man and a highly accomplished painter. Sometimes even the strangest ideas come to seem providential.
In all other respects the music nods towards its early seventeenth-century antecedents, especially the setting of the same words by Thomas Tomkins, yet perhaps goes further in reflecting an imagined scenario. The King’s controlled ascent towards his chamber gives way to naked grieving almost before the door closes upon his retreat. Numbness and tender retrospection alternate with upsurges of raw emotion, the last of these echoing and exceeding the music’s first climax before a hushed epilogue which serves finally to consign narrative and lamentation to a far-distant past.
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JACKSON, G.: Requiem / In all his works / I am the...