Like Monteverdi, Verdi, Vaughan Williams and Tippett before him, John Joubert refuses to recognise the limitations of old age.
Indeed, since his 80th birthday celebrations three years ago there seems to have been a marked increase in works commissioned to flow from his pen, and what the Three Choirs Festival heard at a packed Gloucester Cathedral on Monday was probably the most substantial of this recent clutch.
This was a 45-minute English Requiem, no less, six movements setting texts selected by the indefatigable Nicholas Fisher from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, some of them bringing resonances of the Brahms German Requiem (written when that German roisterer was a mere 35), and a work which is many ways a template for this Joubert masterpiece.
Joubert’s orchestral forces are larger, and he adds the soaring warm innocence of a junior chorus. But his core is a traditional four-part chorus (Adrian Partington’s Festival Chorus projecting with gratifying clarity in this surprisingly co-operative acoustic) and soprano and baritone soloists.
Carolyn Sampson was the eloquent soprano, often allied to an equally eloquent solo oboe, Neal Davies a baritone of comforting tones, well combining with a noble solo horn.
The orchestra was the Philharmonia, responding gratefully to Joubert’s experienced orchestral writing, now lyrical, now rhythmically biting.
Technically the score is elegantly written, and there are some novel homages to Mahler in the keening thirds of its woodwind writing. Its fugues might appear somewhat shoed-in for some tastes, but the passacaglia finale reminds us endearingly of how important this resource has been to Joubert – and Shostakovich, and Britten – throughout his career.
“Clever”, commented a lady in the audience at the conclusion.
It was a lovely thought for Partington to precede this with Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, its “Gaudeamus Igitur” conclusion for once sung instead of merely played. The chorus loved this, and so did I.