Sunday, November 03, 2013

A Secular Requiem

To the Cadogan Hall where a composer friend of my sister's had the London Premiere of his new piece, A Secular Requiem, performed by the Three Spires Singers. I was delighted that our old friend Catherine Wyn Rogers was one of the soloists.

First we had Strauss's Four Last Songs with an excellent Sop called Sarah Fox. Unfortunately the conductor, who was mainly a choir and chorus conductor, wasn't really able to control the orchestra who are mostly London session musicians so the balance was jarringly wrong. However it is a great work.

The Secular Requiem started well with Donne's famous "No man is an island). The librettist was a retired medical Prof (who had worked for our friend Sir Keith Peters at one stage) and he'd done a good job selecting poems and arranging them in the classical five stages of bereavement. The choir and soloists sang very well. But the work suffered from a refusal to engage with the reality of death, and the fortissimo triumphant conclusion was a travesty: even when you are reconciled to the death of a loved one and come to accept that (at some level) this is part of the cycle of life you are not exultant - not even if they are a deep believer and you are convinced of their salvation (Vide the first Fool/Olivia dialogue in Twelfth Night). I had expected that a Secular Requiem would be more attuned to the harshness of death and bereavement than the Christian ones - but no.  In this matter, far from the Devil having all the best tunes, he doesn't even have plausible words.

I did ask both the composer and librettist whether they had thought about reprising the Donne at the end - they both said they had but the composer had rejected it as being too Christian.

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