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The new work's form will be a setting of the Latin Requiem mass. Rütti sets the Introit, Kyrie, Offertorium, Sanctus, Benedictus, Communion, Agnus Dei and In Paradisum, omitting the Dies Irae. The idea for a Requiem came from the choir but Rütti was sympathetic to this and has delivered a work which is immensely practical but also on a vast scale. The work lasts around an hour, but Hill says that the work does not meander, Rütti simply takes his time to say what he wants.
The practicality arises from the work's orchestration as it is written for double choir, strings, harp and organ. The intention being that the work would be affordable by choirs who might perform the Fauré and the Duruflé Requiems. Though the Bach Choir is performing the work with some two hundred singers in Winchester Cathedral, it will be using around half that number at the performance at Douai Abbey, indicating the piece's flexibility.
There is a dramatic element to the piece, as it starts and ends a cappella with an unaccompanied voice, so that at the beginning one person seems to enter singing, to be joined by others then at the end the process is reversed. As if the composer is saying that we bring nothing into the world and take nothing as we leave. At the end the choir sings a repeated figuration which Hill likens to a heart beat; this simply stops, leaving just a single solo voice. For Hill this brings strong drama to the work, embracing what humanity is about. It is perhaps no co-incidence that Rütti seems to be a devout Catholic and is a church organist himself.
The use of double choir, with the individual parts sometimes further sub-divided, results in very rich harmonies. Hill suggests that the sonorities, the texture and harmonies are very reminiscent of late 19th century French music, but that Rütti's score is more structured, using regular repetitive figurations. The harp is an important component in these figurations. Rütti writes for the chorus in a largely homophonic manner. At the opening the antiphonal use of unaccompanied choir is highly reminiscent of Bruckner, but later on, Rütti's French influences come to the fore. The chorus sings closely textured chords, under which the orchestra plays complex figurations. Hill likens this to a complex undercurrent running beneath the progress of the choir.
The particular challenge for the choir in the piece is not rhythmic but tonal: the need to place the densely harmonised chords accurately. But for Hill and his singers the results are rewarding, as Rütti makes the choir sound like a wonderfully voiced organ. Rütti also makes intelligent, imaginative and beautifully textured use of solos (soprano Elizabeth Fuge and baritone Edward Price).
The new Requiem would seem to mark a culmination in Carl Rütti's fascination with the English Choral tradition. It is also appropriate that the first performance will occur in the year that sees David Hill's tenth anniversary as conductor of the choir. It is a testament to choir, conductor and composer that they are producing a work which is not only richly textured and dramatic, but contains a practical element which means that we can hope it will be taken up by other choral societies.
Copyright © 31 January 2008
Robert Hugill, London UK