Paul Riley
BBC Music Magazine
July 2023

Written in memory of his friend Lord Leighton and commissioned for the Birmingham Festival (which would unveil Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius) of 1897, Stanford’s Requiem positions itself alongside those of Brahms and Fauré in preferring reassurance and solace over the terrors and dramas of Verdi and Berlioz. Not that he eschews drama—the 'Dies irae' might emerge out of hushed awe rather than fearful shock, but it encounters Wagnerian turbulence en route to a grandly-conceived choral ‘Tuba mirum’; while the ‘Lachrymosa’ inspires some of Stanford’s most impassioned music: a foil to the lambent ‘Pie Jesu’, and ravishingly consoling ‘Lux aeterna’.

A 1994 recording with Irish forces under Colman Pearce was subsequently reissued on Naxos, but this newcomer brings the work home to the city of its birth and supersedes the trailblazer by some measure. Martyn Brabbins has the music—and the traditions on which it draws—intuitively under his radar. Impeccably he sculpts the flow and sweep that is so often Stanford’s expressive default position, yet no less impressive is the purposefulness and energy of the fugal ‘Quam olim’ and the ethereal poise of the ‘Sanctus’. With fine singing from chorus and soloists alike the Requiem discloses one of Stanford’s greatest achievements. A touch uneven perhaps; but at its best, formidably affecting.