G.Victory Ultima Rerum
The name at least of the Irish composer Gerard Victory (1921-95) should be familiar to most readers. His voice is not particularly distinctive, nor obviously Irish, but his music is accessible and broadly tonal in idiom, making use of a wide range of styles, as in the oratorio Ultima Rerum (''The Last of Things''). This is a much-expanded setting of the Requiem Mass, not unlike Britten's War Requiem, into which have been interspersed texts from the Koran, Walt Whitman and the Eddas amongst others. Ultima Rerum is divided into two halves, or cantos, each of five movements: the first moves from Kyrie to Offertorium, the second from Sanctus (after an opening canzone setting words by Leopardi) to a radiant Agnus Dei. There is much to enjoy throughout: the Kyrie, for example, contains some beautiful writing, although its operatic manner may not appeal to everyone.
Almost any of the ten individual movements could be performed satisfactorily as independent items, although the full kaleidoscopic range of Victory's conception only becomes apparent when heard complete. Herein, though, lies its weakness: in a work of this size and character, one needs a sense of the transcendent (think of, say, the War Requiem, The Vision of St Augustine or Brian's Gothic Symphony), yet in Ultima Rerum I listened in vain for any real visionary quality. Is it the fault of the composer? Well, Victory's technical credentials cannot be doubted, his craftsmanship is impeccable, but one must question the wisdom of the division into two cantos, both of which traverse similar terrain in moving from darkness to light. In the first, the real problem lies in the
The recording is fine and clear (Chris Craker), and overall the performance sounds committed and assured, one small false entry in the Dies irae aside. Unusually for this label, neither CD reaches 50 minutes in duration, but I imagine the addition of a meaningful coupling would have required unhappily splitting one of the cantos across discs. R1 '9506107'