Cathedral Music Review of Requiem CD

Dan Locklair (b. 1949) is an American composer too little known in the UK despite a large output of compositions in a wide range of media and a CD catalogue of over 50 issues. His most important works comprise choral and orchestral music, with several symphonies and concertos already recorded. His imaginative, approachable style lies somewhere within the Copland/Roy Harris/Samuel Barber terrain, a field which some might think is already very crowded, but Locklair demonstrates that there is much hinterland here worthy of exploration. He has also absorbed the influence of the English choral tradition and in particular the music of Finzi and Rutter, as is apparent in his radiant and rich setting of the Requiem (2012-14), originally written for choir and organ and later revised to include the string orchestra heard in several movements on this recording. At 40 minutes (and with an enormously long gestation period of 30 years) it is his most substantial choral work to date. Dedicated to his mother and father, it is a warm celebration of two lovingly remembered parents. The mood is often exuberant, as in Let not your hearts be troubled, sometimes more reflective, as in the (almost Duruflé-like) Agnus Dei and Lux aeterna, which builds to a powerful climax. Very notable is the dramatic bass aria I am the Resurrection, and a magnificent setting for soprano and organ of verses from Psalm 121, immediately followed by the radiant finale In paradisum, which brings the Requiem to a fitting and satisfying conclusion.

The CD is filled out with seven further works, starting with a lovely a capella setting, with much divisi, of Comfort ye, my people, an Advent anthem based on Isaiah ch. 40, followed by a Christmas commission Calm on the listening ear of night (2017), an extended and dramatic work with organ to words by the American Unitarian minister Edward Sears. 0 light of light, a setting of the tenth-century text O nata Lux, feels like an American spiritual, and the gentle ostinati and swaying motifs of another extended anthem, Arise in beauty, contains music of rapt devotion. The contemplative, sensuous motet The Mystery of God sounds like the perfect introit for choral evensong. Finally, Dan Locklair adds to the many examples of the evening canticles with another dancing Magnificat (Kenneth Leighton’s Second Service is not too far away), composed for the Montreal Boys Choir. The lilting Nunc Dimittis, not without its moments of dramatic colour, provides the ideal complement to its Marian companion.

This is a landmark recording, taking advantage of the warm resonance of Christchurch Priory and its organ by a choir that is fully committed to this music. If the name of Dan Locklair is unfamiliar to you, I recommend that you explore this disc – you will not be disappointed. These are very high quality performances of fine music.

Bret Johnson
Cathedral Music, December 2022