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CD Review

Stephen Edwards

Six Feet Five 2

Requiem for My Mother

Beverly Coulter, soprano
Kristopher Jean, tenor
Keith Spencer, baritone
Continuo Arts Symphonic Chorus
City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra/Candace Wicke
Six Feet Five MFMI-002

This disc came as a surprise, and musically-speaking, it was a very pleasant one. Noted film and television composer Stephen Edwards has a small roster of sacred choral music as well, and he clearly knows his way around these traditional texts. His dedication to his mother's memory is heartfelt and sincere, reflected in the sometimes soaring, always tuneful material. Only occasionally does the music sound a trifle forced, and a touch oversentimental. But as a son, I cannot say that anything I would write for my mother wouldn't be sentimental. At any rate, the piece is a deeply personal statement.

Cast in 11 movements, Edwards expands on the traditional requiem format, but also stays true to the Latin texts. They are mostly well painted, and the orchestrations from his colleagues are to be commended. There's a nice mix of influences here, and the main "theme" is instantly catchy and memorable. My lone criticisms concern the Dies Irae, which arguably goes on too long despite jazzy twists, and the writing for soloists over the chorus. This latter point is a matter of personal tastes, but so are all reviews. Everything else is lovely. There's a disc of piano transcriptions based on the work to be released later this year, with the composer at the piano, as well as a documentary that traces the story of the work's premiere. So, music lovers will have plenty of chances to get to know this worthwhile piece.

Unfortunately, I am not as impressed with the actual performance. The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra is a 50-player ensemble with (unsurprisingly) excellent wind playing, but the balances are not ideal and the orchestral tone is occasionally colorless. More importantly, the very large choir that is Continuo Arts seems to lack a consistent blend and occasionally struggles with Edwards complex writing and unexpected harmonics. It's largely impressive both in terms of sheer sound and commitment, but like the orchestral backdrop, it lacks the last word in polish and depth. Candace Wicke leads the 170 musicians involved with real feeling, but I find choral conductors working with large forces to sound out of their element. Robert Shaw and David Wilcocks are hardly excused from this critique, either, so this is not meant to downplay the accolades that Wicke has undoubtedly earned with her real talent. However, the fact remains that I simply expect a little more from such a piece, and I therefore hope to hear it again with different forces.

Copyright © 2017, Brian Wigman