Howard Goodall – Eternal Light

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Howard Goodall
Eternal Light – A Requiem
Love Divine
The Lord is my shepherd
Spared

Natasha Marsh (soprano), Alfie Boe (tenor) & Christopher Maltman (baritone)

Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford

London Musici
Stephen Darlington

Recorded 28-30 April, 13 May & 12 June 2008 in St Michael & All Angels Church, Summertown, Oxford


Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: December 2008
CD No: EMI CLASSICS
2 15047 2
Duration: 57 minutes

Howard Goodall details his approach to the setting of the Requiem text as a Brahmsian one, offering consolation rather than outright warnings of damnation and the Day of Judgement. However he complements this with deeply felt settings of poetry, in particular that of John McCrae, a Canadian military doctor killed in the First World War.

The poem “In Flanders fields” forms the central, emotional apex of “Eternal Light” and is performed in conjunction with the words of the ‘Dies Irae’. To this Goodall sets his most distinctive music of the work, rippling piano and harp figures ascending to the heights as if forming an illuminated stairway. It’s a most moving passage, and performed with great sensitivity.

In the work’s more serene passages it is easier to identify Goodall as the composer of the theme to the celebrated television series “The Vicar of Dibley”, with a treble-rich texture also bringing to mind the ‘In Paradisum’ of Fauré’s own “Requiem”. Goodall too writes a treble part (in this case the clear soprano of Natasha Marsh) and a baritone soloist, though in Alfie Boe he has a tenor with a similarly pure tone to complement. In the rare passages where the three sing together – the ‘Dies Irae’ and ‘In Paradisum’ – the effect is a relatively powerful one, though textures can cloy. In the ‘Lacrymosa’, tenderly sung by Christopher Maltman, elements of a Celtic melody come through to dominate.

It is possible to determine faint influences of the music of Vaughan Williams and Holst, though Goodall’s style is distinctive enough to be held alone in its own right, a melodic approach but one that remains responsive to the text. The urgent pizzicatos of ‘Revelation’ generate the most momentum other than the ‘Dies Irae’ – this movement bisecting the ‘Kyrie’ and the ‘Credo’.

The three shorter accompanying choral pieces should be heard separately, particularly as one of them is indeed “The Lord Is My Shepherd”, that television theme mentioned above. It’s a beautifully restful piece of music, but familiarity with that programme brings visions of comedy rather than eternal peace! More affecting is “Spared” setting words of Wendy Cope. The subject matter is far from comfortable, a response to attacks on New York of 11 September 2001, which Goodall saw with his own eyes – and as he wishes in the booklet note, it makes an effective companion piece to “Eternal Light”.

Stephen Darlington conducts a responsive Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, the singers are bright of tone throughout. It would have been nice to have had more depth of sound in “Eternal Light” given that Christopher Maltman’s baritone is the most prominent of the lower-range instruments – but as Goodall’s intention was to evoke peace and serenity through adversity, the work can be counted a success.

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