Polish music has been a focus in this year's Presteigne festival and, under the baton of artistic director George Vass, this concert brought the premiere of the specially commissioned Requiem by Pawel Lukaszewski. Scored for soprano and baritone soloists, small chorus and chamber orchestra, Lukaszewski's use of the harp inevitably invoked Faure. Yet, while the percussionist was kept busy tolling tubular bells, it was the primarily homophonic use of the chorus, the Joyful Company of Singers, that coloured the sound.
A conscious emphasis on the promise of eternal life stemmed from the composer's own faith. His decision to set a consoling Alleluia in place of Judgment Day wrath - in keeping with the second Vatican council's decision to remove the Dies Irae from the funeral liturgy - was a further factor in dictating the music's benign overall tenor. Its various personal dedications, including the Sanctus to the memory of John Tavener, and the solo movements, the Pie Jesu for soprano (Rachel Nicholls) and Psalm 23 for baritone (Christopher Foster), were clearly deeply felt. But the progress of this almost hour-long work nevertheless felt slow.
The concert opened with John
McCabe's early Concertante Variations on a theme of Nicholas Maw, by turns lively and contemplative. Nicholls made her mark, albeit with words too often indistinct, in the vivid solo role of Stephen McNeff's Four Songs for the Virgin of Guadalupe, where religion and politics combine to ignite the drama implicit in the struggle of Mexican Zapatista women for emancipation.
The work with the greatest immediacy was an addition to the original programme. The music of Australian Peter Sculthorpe, who died last month, often featured at Presteigne, as indeed did the composer himself. Nicholls sang Salve Regina, his last completed work, in tribute. The simplicity of the almost sculpted melodic line with sparse string accompaniment carried a strong emotional force.
The Presteigne festival (01544 267800) ends today.