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Printed music: Bath Missa Brevis, Requiem: for an unknown soldier, and other works

29 October 2021

Ronald Corp reviews printed choral music


MUSIC publishers have gone through a difficult period during this pandemic because one significant source of income is the sale of multiple copies of vocal music. This country boasts a huge number of choirs of all shapes and sizes with an appetite for music old and new, but, without being able to meet and perform, choirs have had no need to purchase scores.

So, hats off to Banks Music Publications for keeping up a programme of publications, often with an eye on the church and collegiate choir, while championing the music of young composers. In the Genesis Choral Series, three new works are by Russell Hepplewhite (b.1982), Thomas Hewitt-Jones (b.1984), and Alex Patterson (b.1988). All three write in an approachable idiom, enhanced by piquant harmonies.

Hepplewhite has forged a career as a composer of works for young voices, besides writing concert works. His setting of “How lovely are thy dwellings fair” (GCL038, £1.95), for unaccompanied four-part choir, begins with a haunting triple-metre motif that reappears between calmer homophonic passages; and, to give variety, there are sections of simple polyphonic writing. The music is direct and appealing. The anthem would make a nice change from the more symphonic setting from Brahms’s German Requiem.

A bolder affair is the Bath Missa Brevis (GCL033, £3.95) by Hewitt-Jones, which is scored for four-part choir and organ. The organ part is reasonably virtuosic, and the voice parts are rhythmically inventive, but always practical. As in the Hepplewhite, the harmonic language is relatively straightforward, with dissonant notes colouring common chords.

The Kyrie is marked “quietly unsettled, with passion” and is brief. The Gloria is inevitably the longest movement, and is full of incident, reflecting the text. The Sanctus begins loudly and joyfully, subsiding into a calmer Benedictus and then rising again with Hosannas, ending very loud. A straightforward setting of the Agnus Dei also rises to a climax before ending quietly with organ references to the Kyrie.

“Two Pieces for Remembrance” (GCL004, £1.95) are settings by Patterson of “Dulce et Decorum est” and Binyon’s famous lines “For the Fallen”. The two short anthems share the same musical harmonic language and are scored for unaccompanied choir, with some division. The first also has a soprano or treble solo, singing over a hummed accompaniment of long notes. “For the fallen” is to be sung at a slow (and “laboured”) pace; only 25 bars long, it is rather moving.

The name John Carol Case will be recognised because of his illustrious career as a singer, but he was also a composer, and Banks have published his Requiem: for an unknown soldier (BMP011, £7.95), which was first performed at Bishop Wordsworth’s School in 1944. The text is by the headmaster of the school, Freddie Happold. Case (a former pupil) was at that time still in the army, but was allowed special leave to conduct the première. The work is scored for chorus with soprano and tenor soloists with strings or organ accompaniment. The work begins with a spoken prologue. Then follows music in a straightforward but affecting idiom, with passages reminding me of Vaughan Williams.

Bairstow’s anthem “Blessed City, Heavenly Salem” needs no introduction, but the critical edition published by Banks is very welcome. The anthem is available with organ accompaniment (YS659(R), £2.95) and also in Bairstow’s own orchestration for strings, piano, and violin solo (YS659SC, £15). The manuscript of this was found in Banks’s archive. John Scott Whitely has edited this edition and has brought to the project notes that he made from performances attended by Francis Jackson, who had the ear of Bairstow himself.

Further information on instrumental parts, multiple downloads, etc., at www.banksmusicpublications.co.uk

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