Sunday 12 June 2016

Naxos bring a spectacularly well sung Requiem by Randall Thompson, full of many fine moments

Randall Thompson (1899-1984) was born in New York and studied with Archibald Davison (1883-1961) and Edward Hill (1872-1960) at Harvard. He also spent some time working with Ernest Bloch before receiving a fellowship from the American Academy in Rome.

He spent most of his working life teaching at various colleges and conservatories. His compositions include three symphonies, two operas and a variety of instrumental and chamber music as well as major works for chorus, a field in which he particularly excelled.

It is surprising that Thompson’s Requiem, written in 1958, has not been recorded until now. Naxos has just released the World Premiere Recording featuring The Philadelphia Singers  directed by David Hayes


Randall Thompson’s Requiem is not a traditional Latin Requiem but draws on a variety of other biblical sources revealing the composer’s personal statement on life and death. It was commissioned by the University of California, Berkeley at which the composer had previously taught. Lasting nearly an hour, it is in five parts and uses a double choir.

Part I: Lamentations brings a distinctive, rapidly undulating theme where both choirs overlay the text, growing in intensity as it progresses and descending as the words and mourning and weeping? are reached. The music continues to rise and fall before the beautifully gentle coda.

Part II: The Triumph of Faith opens with Why make ye this ado and weep? With the choirs making terrific use of fast moving phrases that are finely woven, subtly bringing drama through dynamics, this shows just what this terrific choir can do.

There is a declamatory opening to What man is he that liveth and shall not see death? but the choirs soon fall to a sonorous texture. The declamatory and sonorous contrasts alternate between choirs, beautifully controlled making a fine juxtaposition.

Good tidings to the meek is nicely sprung, with a rather Christmassy feel with a lovely, gentle rise and fall in this beautifully shaped performance, with a little chant to end.

In Part III: The Call to Song, Be filled with the spirit has a beautifully simple opening yet the responses of ‘None answered’ are darker. There is a particularly lovely touch to the final ‘…answer.

The tenors lead off quickly in O let the nations be glad before the rest of the choir overlay the vocal lines to fine effect, rising brilliantly before a subdued ‘But they hearkened not.’

There is a vibrant, fast moving Sing unto Him with the feel of a round before Utter a song brings some lovely long lines that gently fall away at the end of each phrase, rising in dynamics to a finely blended choral texture before continuing with quickly overlaid lines.

Part IV: The Garment of Praise opens with a rich, dark sonority from the choir in the beautiful Sing with the spirit before Let everything that hath breath rises up suddenly, dynamic and vibrant, full of joy.

Let them give glory unto the Lord shows this choir’s show terrific flexibility, finding their way around all the changing tempi rhythms and dynamics, Thompson providing some striking ideas.

With Praise Him all ye stars of light the two choirs bring some very fine effects, vibrant in and all the sons of God shouted for joy and hushed over a wordless accompaniment for The morning stars sang together.

I am their music is beautifully rich and sonorous with some gentle and affecting moments. I will praise the Lord with my whole heart is subtly woven into the choral texture, gloriously sung.

Ye were sometimes darkness that opens Part V: The Leave-taking is equally finely sung, with a gentle opening, gaining in strength with subtle little rhythmic changes and fine harmonies, rising particularly towards the end.

The Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light flows ahead full of confidence and light before falling at the conclusion with and thy God thy glory. There is a finely controlled Return unto thy rest, O my soul, full of little subtleties, gently rising centrally before an exquisite coda.

The gentle Thou hast given him his heart’s desire follows perfectly, beautifully controlled with lovely sonorities and a lovely rich coda with The Philadelphia Singers’ basses sounding through. The whole work concludes with a finely woven Amen and amen, alleluia, rising and falling through some very fine, vibrant passages to a gentle coda. 

This is a spectacularly well sung Requiem, full of many fine moments. This excellent choir receive an equally fine recording from the Gould Rehearsal Hall, Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, PA and there are informative notes and full English texts. 

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