Following three moving choral works by Sheppard, Tallis and Byrd, the program pairs two organ solos: Tallis’s Veni Redemptor and Master Tallis’s Testament by Howells, leading up to the stirring Requiem which Howells completed in 1936 in memory of his only son who died tragically at the age of nine; the work was not released for performance until 1980, just three years before the composer’s own death. The Requiem is a harmonious and romantic composition which also contains some of the most private music Howells ever wrote, conveying his deep sense of loss. After Geoffrey Burgon’s Nunc dimittis, a deeply evocative setting for boys’ voices only, the first half concludes with John Tavener’s Song for Athene which provided the emotional climax to the funeral of HRH Diana, Princess of Wales, when it was sung in Westminster Abbey.
The concert’s second half features the Durufl√© Requiem, written in memory of the composer’s father. At the time, Durufl√© was working on an organ suite using themes from Gregorian chants. He incorporated his sketches for that work into the Requiem, which uses many themes from the Gregorian Mass for the Dead. Nearly all the thematic material in the work comes from chant. The work is set in nine movements. Interestingly, the Dies irae text, perhaps the most famous portion of the Requiem mass, is set only briefly in the Libera me section. Durufl√©’s inclusion of other texts from the burial service (e.g. In Paradisum) makes this composition calmer and more meditative than some other settings.