Timothy Hamilton: Requiem

review hamilton x1 cong

Carlsberg have that advert, “If Carlsberg did…” followed by something really good. The best way we can put this is, “If Cliff Adams did requiems…” By which we mean that this modern piece — it was commissioned in 2012 to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War — manages to be both solemn and honour the fallen, while being firmly aimed at the listener who might be put off by something heavy.

Older readers might remember Sing Something Simple, a radio programme that featured Mr Adams and his singers (not forgetting Jack Emblow on accordion) in which they sang popular tunes of the day in a simple style; we always imagined it was aimed at people just back from church (or just going), and about to have their weekly bath.

Actually, we’ve just played the theme tune and it’s as bad as we remember, and this is a long way from that; we just mean to suggest its palatibilty to the more casual listener.

Requiem draws inspiration from the Roman liturgy and aims to conjure up a sequence of images reflecting on the horror of war and the calmness after a battle, with moments of reflection.

The piece opens with the Prelude, a short voluntary to establish mood. A choir sombrely sings and the opening notes, played by the French horn are reminiscent of the Last Post. The next movement, Introit, introduces the first section of the requiem mass, a soprano soloist offering a prayer for the souls of the fallen.

The Warrior’s Psalm is a setting, to Anglican chant, of Psalm 91, which was read to soldiers on the eve of battle by military chaplains, recited daily by the 91st Infantry Brigade of the US Expeditionary Army throughout WWI. The 91st brigade did not suffer a single combat-related casualty despite being involved in three of the bloodiest battles. This and the following Hostias are very accessible to a casual listener — we imagine that, like Bob Chilcott, amateur singers might fancy having a go.

Later on, Libera Me is dramatically distinctly martial and represents a battle charge with the soldiers going “over the top”, the heat of battle giving way to a reflective prayer. It all ends gently, leaving an image of war graves disappearing into the distance.

Not quite a Christmas album, but moving and listenable.

Out on Naxos, 8.573849.

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