The latest release on the Sanctiandree label celebrates Austrian composer Sigismund von Neukomm's position in the evolution of choral music between Mozart, Haydn and Brahms in performances by St. Salvator's Chapel Choir. Neukomm's huge output of some 2000 works has been described as 'transitional' between the Classical and Romantic periods; composers who do not fit neatly into pre-ordained categories invariably offer listeners fresh perspectives and insights.
Neukomm's Requiem in C minor was composed during the auspicious political circumstances of the Congress of Vienna, which signalled closure on more than two decades of warfare: the Napoleonic Wars following the French Revolution of 1789. The solemn occasion of the Requiem's first performance was attended by many of the heads of state of Europe and their representatives.
For this symbolic occasion, Neukomm came up with the idea of supporting the double choir with organ and a brass octet of keyed trumpet, four hand-horns and three trombones, an innovation without precedent. He uses this ensemble sparingly, only unleashing it at moments of high drama, and, on a few occasions, using the softer range of dynamics to induce depth and inspire awe, presaging the use of brass in operatic music by later Romantic composers. This is highly effective, especially during pivotal moments at the beginning, middle and end, acting as pillars to the overall form of the work. In these interludes the brass ensemble is heard alone, firstly as a short prelude; then after the Sanctus where the brass interlude accompanies the communion ceremony; and finally concluding the Requiem with a Funeral March, seemingly transporting the soul of the Requiem's subject heavenwards to its final resting place.
Neukomm's Requiem is heard alongside brass works of the same era: a brass Quintette by Jean-François-Victor Bellon, a brass ensemble arrangement of fellow French composer Alexandre Guilmant's Morceau Symphonique, and German composer Ernst Sachse's Trombone Concertino. Amongst the unusual instruments featured are the serpent and the ophicleide. These are heard alongside the singers of St Salvator's Chapel Choir of the University of St Andrews directed by Tom Wilkinson, and The Wallace Collection, comprising a group of period brass specialists brought together to showcase these remarkable instruments and directed by Anthony George.