The Exon Singers | St Barnabas Church, Oxford

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The Independent Culture

George Lloyd's Requiem, his final work, was completed in January 1998, seven months before his death at the grand old age of 85. It is a setting of the standard Latin text without the "Libera Me", because, characteristically, the composer wished to finish the piece on a positive note, which he does in style with one of his most memorable "big tunes" (as he liked to call them).

Suffering from heart failure, Lloyd found he did not possess the necessary strength to score his Requiem for full orchestra, and so chose the smaller-scale forces of solo counter-tenor, chorus and organ. Although the composer's writing for the organ is remarkably resourceful throughout the work's 45 minutes, there are some passages which that have benefited from the more extensive palette of a full orchestral accompaniment.

For example, the whirling semiquavers at the opening of the "Confutatis" would have suited the brilliance of Lloyd's inimitable cornet writing (as showcased in the Tenth Symphony - scored for brass alone), while the sighing triplets of the "Lacrimosa" could have been among the composer's most yearning themes for violins. The use of a counter-tenor soloist lends the work a timeless quality and a deeply spiritual dimension unusual in Lloyd's mainly secular output.

None the less, there are several moments in this predominantly serene score when the composer appears to be resisting the undue solemnity of undertaking a setting of the Requiem Mass. The elfin march of the "Hostias" is so quirky and impish, it could be a musical self-portrait, while the graceful melody of the intermezzo-like "Liber Scriptus" might easily have sprung from one of the lighter of Lloyd's 12 symphonies.

The 26-strong Exon singers, under their conductor, Matthew Owens, counter-tenor Tim Massa and organist Jeffrey Makinson, all acquitted themselves well in a committed and accomplished premiÿre. News of this rewarding and accessible work's second performance in Exeter on 28 July and a forthcoming recording by the Exon singers is extremely welcome. One hopes that the score's many felicities will be better served in future performances by a more analytical acoustic than that provided by St Barnabas Church.

Written in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales (the occasional use of chant-like declamatory passages for the soloist recalls the ending of Verdi's Requiem, a favourite work of Diana's), the Requiem is also a conscious leave-taking on the part of the composer. When the "big tune" finally steals in near the end of the concluding "Lux Aeternam", it is hard to remain unmoved by the typically Lloydian combination of disarming simplicity and life-affirming optimism, especially in its poignant, valedictory context.

There will be no more "big tunes" from George Lloyd, and as a result, contemporary music will be all the poorer for it.