Truly can Sheffield Bach Choir’s upcoming Summer Concert be said to live up to the title Summer Time – An American Celebration! (writes Simon Lindley..)
Although, alone among the three composers – Donald Hunt, Morten Lauridsen and John Rutter – only Morten Lauridsen is American born and bred, the repertoire for the whole gala evening has been either devised for, or specifically involving, American musical celebrations of one kind or another.
Often heard in Worcester concerts or at the Worcester Three Choirs’ Festival over the years, Dr Donald Hunt’s American Serenade explores the rich diversity of repertoire from the tradition of the American “musical” and is a celebration of the art of George Gershwin, Jerome Kern and Cole Porter – with individual numbers for smash hit shows such as High Society, Porgy and Bess, Show Boat, Sally, Very warm for May and Girl Crazy. Dr Hunt has orchestrated his American Serenade especially for this particular concert to match the instrumental provision of the rest of the programme, and Sheffield Bach Choir is profoundly grateful to him for this extremely generous undertaking.
The first performance of English composer Dr John Rutter’s Requiem took place in October 1985 at Lovers’ Lane United Methodist Church, Dallas in Texas and the same composer’s Feel the Spirit was first heard in New York’s Carnegie Hall in June of 2001. On each occasion, the music was under the directorship of the composer himself. English mezzo-soprano Melanie Marshall was the soloist at the first hearing of Feel the Spirit.
The traditions of the American “musical” and the sacred “spiritual” are wonderfully served and celebrated by Dr Hunt and Dr Rutter and this is immediately, and memorably apparent from the very first bar of each piece.
American composer Morten Lauridsen’s setting of the Christmas Respond O magnum mysterium comes from the traditional Latin liturgy of the Feast of the Nativity, being part of the service of the First Matins of Christmas. This deeply expressive motet was commissioned by Marshal Rutter in honour of his wife, Terry Knowles, and first heard sung by Los Angeles Master Chorale under Paul Salamunovich in Los Angeles’ Dorothy Sanders Pavilion on 18 December 1994.
John Rutter’s Requiem – an intensely personal work dedicated to the memory of the composer’s father – is a work more in the traditions of Fauré and Duruflé rather than those of Berlioz and Verdi. Rutter, like Walford Davies and Herbert Howells before him, sets a mixture of vernacular texts in English (mostly from the magical prose of the Book of Common Prayer Office for the Burial of the Dead and the Psalms of David) alongside more ancient Latin stanzas from the traditional Missa pro defunctis of the Roman rite. The easy companionship of these two separate inspirations is a highlight of Rutter’s profound and expressive setting. Rutter’s music incorporates an earlier anthem, The Lord is my Shepherd – a movement enhanced by a magical oboe obbligato, and an item composed almost a decade previously, in 1976.