An English Requiem review


Three Choirs Festival at Gloucester Cathedral ****

"We brought nothing into this world, and we take nothing out". A bell tolls through the opening bars of John Joubert's An English Requiem and muted strings sigh like autumn rain. As a meditation on last things from such a life-affirming composer, it seems at first almost too bleak. But the horn that calls hauntingly in the middle-distance of those first phrases recurs in later movements; there's a journey under way here. Shadows lengthen across every movement of this intensely beautiful work, but Joubert's message, expressed through the tension between his richly poetic music and the penny-plain English of the New Revised Standard Version, is nonetheless one of comfort.

Joubert died in January this year, and this performance was always likely to be a poignant occasion. Adrian Partington (who conducted the premiere here in Gloucester Cathedral in 2010), drew shades of russet and silver from a responsive BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and big-hearted, luminous singing from the Festival chorus, whose oceanic surge of tone in the penultimate movement and light-footed agility in the fugue that followed, made Joubert's final vision of hope ring touchingly true. Soloists Neal Davies and April Fredrick unfurled, long rapturous paragraphs of melody, soaring above Joubert's questioning orchestra. The choristers of the three Cathedral choirs placed a halo atop the shimmering final chords.

As a tribute to a much-loved artist and man, it could hardly have been bettered; as a piece of advocacy for a 21st century masterpiece, it surely represented the Three Choirs Festival at its best. The concert had opened with Berlioz's Roman Carnival overture and Elgar's Cello Concerto, played by Natalie Clein. Gridlocked on the M42, I missed both, but judging from the faces of those who did hear them, both performances were thoroughly enjoyed.

Richard Bratby

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