The death of David Trendell in 2014 at the age of just 50 deprived us of a larger-than-life figure who was not only a musical polymath (conductor, organist, singer, lecturer…) but someone much loved and who had a profound effect on all those who came into contact with him, however briefly. This disc is the result of an outpouring of that love and, naturally, of grief, brought together in a splendid collection that stands as a celebration of David’s life as much as a memorial.
Renaissance polyphony, a constant thread in David Trendell’s life, and of much of which he was a transcriber and editor, is a thread that runs through this recording, linking together with recent works by composers who knew him and were, as Michael Emery says in his sensitive and informative booklet-notes, ‘friends, pupils and colleagues (and, more often than not – in the case of such a sociable and gregarious man – a combination of all three)’. Some of them, such as Silvina Milstein’s ushnarasmou and Francis Pott’s Nigra sum, were composed specifically as memorial tributes; others are works that David had conducted or in some way been involved with.
These works vary enormously in style but perhaps the most unusual is Milstein’s piece, the only one to step outside the Christian liturgical tradition, being a setting of a Sanskrit poem dealing with the themes of spring and rebirth. Its considerable technical difficulties are handled with aplomb by the Choir of King’s College London, but Pott’s Nigra sum (paired, naturally, with the work of the same name by Lhéritier, a work David Trendell had edited) is also not without challenges; the ‘suspended’ ending is beautifully handled. The two organ-accompanied settings of the Evening Canticles, by Rob Keeley and conductor Gareth Wilson, relate more directly to the Anglican tradition, while Antony Pitts’s Pie Jesu (Prayer of the Heart) strikingly combines texts from the Latin Requiem Mass and the Orthodox spiritual tradition. In many ways the most strikingly beautiful of the new works is Francis Grier’s Panis angelicus, in which soprano and tenor soloists weave magical lines above the stillness of the male-voice choir, which ends it with a simple restatement of the words ‘panis angelicus’.
I return to the Renaissance thread that runs throughout this recording: all four composers represented here – Byrd, Lhéritier, Palestrina and Clemens non Papa – were loved by David Trendell, and the choir performs this music in full knowledge of that, producing renditions of transparent beauty and exemplary balance. A radiant tribute to a radiant musician.