Matthew Coleridge wrote his Requiem in 2014/15, and it has now received its second recording, this time with Rupert Gough directing The Choir of Royal Holloway, with Southern Sinfonia. Soloists are cellist Maxim Calver, Soprano Karin Dahlberg and bass baritone Andrew Thompson, with Simon Earl on organ. This is definitely a Requiem of comfort and peaceful resolution, rather than torment or anguish – there is no Dies Irae, for a start. The musical language is melodic and lyrical, with warm writing for the choral forces throughout. Yet what stops this becoming cloying is Coleridge’s writing for the solo cello, and also for the soprano soloist. It is the cello that provides the voice of lament, and then ultimately comfort, and the different registers of the instrument are exploited well, with the cello’s ‘Byzantine’ scales contrasted with the choral plainsong and low drone in the Offertory, and the plaintive, high registers entwined with the soprano solo in the Lacrimosa (with hints of Górecki’s Third Symphony here). Calver on cello is confident and assured throughout the instrument’s range, and his tone is richly warm. This is well matched by Dahlberg’s rounded tone, and Coleridge makes full use of range here too, with the soprano line started richly low in the Pie Jesu before rising to a tender duet with the cello. The choir are impressive throughout here, with clarity of tone in all voice parts, but with a particularly radiant tenor section and soaring high sopranos, exploited to the full in the Introit, with the sopranos ringing out at the top of the texture at ‘Exaudi’. Thompson delivers a suitably pleading solo at ‘Hostias’ in the Offertory. Organ is used sparingly and Earl ensures that even at the climaxes it never overpowers the texture. The strings are equally supportive, providing throbbing underpinning, as well as moments of mood change, lifting proceedings with delicate fluttering towards the end of the Lacrimosa, for example. Moments of drama are few, and the use of the steady, funereal drum in the Kyrie is effective, but never builds to anything too severe. The Rex Tremendae has the most dramatic music, with a slow build of tension up to the desperate cries of ‘Salve me’, but these are soon forgotten when the consoling Agnus Dei arrives.
The Requiem is joined on this latest disc by assorted choral works by Coleridge, and one instrumental piece. The latter, And There Was Light, was written for strings and solo cello with the current recording in mind, and it consists of an open, warm solo cello part with gentle string underpinning. As with the Requiem, there is little rhythmic drive here, but the solo line is lyrical and warmly performed here by Calver. Of the choral pieces here, it is the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis that stand out, as there is greater sense of rhythmic movement than in any of the other works on offer here. The organ (here played by George Nicholls) gives an energetic opening to the Magnificat, and its rocking, oscillating rhythms give a sense of propulsion perhaps lacking in some of the other pieces. The Glorias are rich and fulsome, with the Royal Holloway sopranos souring beautifully at the top of the Amen. My Beloved Spake hints at passion in the repetitions of ‘come’, the choral textures are indeed sensuous, and Olivia Earl’s alto solo is equally sumptuous, followed by Thompson’s contrasting but tender solo, but I’m not sure true ecstasy is reached here. The Stabat Mater is soulful, with low voices moving slowly at the start, and again sparing use of organ, once again leading to a conclusion of solace and comfort. The choir deliver some particularly top notch singing with clear and bright tone in Coleridge’s Abendlied setting. Soprano and cello (Dahlberg & Calver) return for And I Saw a New Heaven, with now familiar open and lyrical lines for both, over soft organ pedals, slowly meandering towards a soft conclusion with delicate choral backing to finish. The disc is full of strong performances from the choir, soloists and instrumentalists, and it serves as an excellent showcase for Coleridge’s strong choral writing.