American Organist: Requiem & Other Choral Works

DAN LOCKLAIR: REQUIEM & OTHER CHORAL WORKS. Choir of Royal Holloway, University of London; Rupert Gough, director’ Martin Baker’ organist; Southern Sinfonia’ Convivium Records CR070, 2022.

The stars were in alignment for this magnificent recording which features stunning music from a brilliant composer, an exceptional collegiate choir, a superstar organist, a richly voiced string ensemble, an imaginative, courageous conductor, and an impeccable audio engineer.

The music here is by one of the most prolific and talented composers of our time: Dan Locklair, a man of immeasurable gifts and imagination. Locklair’s writing for solo voice, for chorus, for instruments – and for any possible combination of these three-never fails. His oeuvre includes symphonic works’ ballet and opera, sacred and secular choral music, and, in particular solo organ repertoire. When setting texts for choirs or vocal soloists, he mines deeply the many options that lie before him, whether ancient or modern. The Requiem on this recording, for instance, mixes words of Scripture with the traditional liturgical text, not unlike the Rutter Requiem or the Britten War Requiem, whose interpolations are poetry.

Throughout the Requiem and the disc’s seven additional choral works, Locklair displays again and again his remarkable gift for tone painting, drawing every possible emotion from the text. His works grab the listener and do not let go until they have provided a sublime experience. Even after the music ends, the heart longs for more.

The recording was made in June 2021 in the acoustically rich Christchurch Priory, Dorset, U.K., under the direction of Rupert Gough, who has mastered the art of synthesizing repertoire, musical forces, and physical environment, then preparing and performing in such a way that there is nothing to criticize and everything to praise. The 22-voice Choir of Royal Holloway holds its own against any other collegiate choir and can be heard on a number of other outstanding recordings. The mixed-voice ensemble sings with excellent diction, nuance, balance and blend.

Collaborative artists in the Locklair project include Martin Baker, an international concert artist who has served as organist for both Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral. The 15-piece string ensemble, Southern Sinfonia, plays with impeccable intonation, verve, and style, all no doubt prepared and polished by artistic director Simon Chalk. Soprano Hilary Cronin, alto Elisabeth Paul, tenor Christopher Willoughby, and bass Geoff Williams provide yet more luster to this musical enterprise.

The Requiem, originally for organ and choir, was later expanded to the orchestral version heard here. All of the texts are in English. The nine movements are at times intimate and poignant, and at others infused with dignity and splendor. The organ, as heard in the Sanctus, provides vibrance and rhythmic vitality. The orchestra for In paradisum paints a sunrise, with all forces gathering to create an extraordinary climax, as resurrection and eternal life are revealed. In short, every movement has its own pictorial persona.

The seven other works are equally compelling and extraordinarily diverse in what they offer: “Comfort Ye,” both gentle and jubilant; “Calm on the Listening Ear,” a welcome new take on Christmas itself; “O Light of Light,” a time of reveling in unaccompanied voices; “Arise in Beauty,” a gripping and lively embrace of Angier Brock’s evocative text; “The Mystery of God,” mysterious and lovely. The closing Magnificat and Nunc dimittis are a spine-tingling tour de force for organ and choir. Perhaps unexpectedly, there is a quiet ending to these canticles, and thus to the entire recording-some 73 minutes of gravitas, elegance, sophistication, and excitement.

The disc’s copious and attractive notes, texts, and photographs not only are informative but also make possible a deeper and fuller appreciation of the music. Final high praise is due to recording engineer Adaq Khan for capturing the full essence of the music, the performers, and the space. The sound is unfailingly full and satisfying.

Richard Coffey
From the July 2022 issue of American Organist magazine