Dan Locklair (b. 1949) is much more widely known in the US than in the UK, and his works include several commissioned for, or performed at, presidential events. Nevertheless, his music has been heard in the UK, as well as in many European countries, in South Africa and Asia. He has composed in a wide variety of genres, including ballet and opera.
This disc is highly recommended in terms of musical content and performance quality, both for devotional listening and for the consideration of ambitious choir directors keen to extend their repertoire of music composed outside of the UK. The Requiem is musically striking and attractively varied, with moments of considerable power (notably in the Sanctus, and more surprisingly part way through the ‘In paradisum’) as well as quieter, more intimate, passages. The musical idiom is accessible, with an occasional hint of Duruflé perhaps; but on the whole Locklair has a distinctive voice.
In common with a number of other recent Requiems, the texts are in English (despite the use of Latin titles, such as ‘Sanctus-Benedictus’ and ‘Pie Jesu’). Three non-liturgical items are included – the intention being presumably to stress the consolatory rather than the threatening (there is no ‘Dies irae’, for example).
As well as ‘standard’ Requiem texts for choir with organ and string orchestra there are items for solo voice accompanied by organ only. The orchestral parts were not part of the original conception, and may be left out: there is an argument in favour of the lighter accompaniment that would result. The solo items may be performed separately, the second and third (‘I am the Resurrection’ and ‘I will lift up mine eyes’) struck me as particularly engaging.
As well as the Requiem, the CD includes five anthems and a setting of the Montréal Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (2000). This splendid setting was commissioned by the Montréal Boys’ Choir Course (but is for full SATB choir and organ). Both vocal and organ parts are challenging, and the work is admirably enterprising in its handling of textures and vocal groupings. There is a particularly exciting ending to the Gloria of the Magnificat, with its arresting chord progression. By contrast, the conclusion of the Nunc Dimittis is appropriately serene and peaceful.
The anthems are alternately a cappella and for choir and organ. First among the a cappella pieces is ‘Comfort ye my people’ for SATB with divisions. The text is an English translation by Catherine Winkworth of words by the 17th-century writer Johann Olearius. After a gentle and gracious start, the music takes flight at ‘Hark, the voice of one that cometh’. Altogether this anthem is a gem, aptly in view of its dedication to the ‘love of [Locklair’s] life, [his] wife Paula on her birthday in 2020’ (quotation from the composer’s sleeve notes).
Even more recent is ‘O Light of Light’ (2021). This was ‘warmly dedicated to the outstanding British choral conductor and organist Rupert Gough’ whose Royal Holloway choir demonstrates here, as elsewhere on the disc, its superb sound. ‘O Light of Light’ is a setting of an English translation (by Laurence Housman) of verses from the anonymous Latin hymn ‘O Nata Lux de Lumine’. Soprano and tenor soloists Hilary Cronin and Christopher Willoughby shine individually, and finally together at ‘Jesus, redeemer of the earth’ against a slow-moving choral background.
‘The Mystery of God’ (2016) was dedicated to Malcolm Archer, one of our honorary fellows. The poem, beginning with the words ‘O Thou, in all thy might so far’, is by the American Unitarian minister F.L. Hosmer. There are strophic elements, and textual projection. always clear, is maximised by some well-chosen use of unison textures. Predominantly serene, a telling climax is reached near the end of the final verse.
‘Calm on the Listening Ear of Night; is a Christmas anthem for SATB and organ, a prominent stylistic feature being a stepwise series of rising and falling pedal points. At nearly seven minutes it is longer than may be convenient for some carol services, but it was actually commissioned for a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in North Carolina in 2017. The text is by another Unitarian minister, E.H. Sears (best known for ‘It came upon the midnight clear’). The exciting choral writing with organ at ‘Glory to God’ in the final verse leads to a delicate ending as the ‘first Christmas morn’ breaks.
‘Arise in Beauty’ alone among the anthems has a 21st-century text (by Angier Brock, 2009) but with echoes of the Book of Common Prayer and of scripture. Particularly noteworthy is the ‘reversed’ homage to the Trinity, with the order ‘Inventing Wind [Spirit], O Generous Christ, O Luminous God’. The quiet ending (‘for you alone my soul in silence waits’) is beautifully set, with a brief rest that makes for a momentary wait in silence.