Resonances of Waterloo

Resonances of Waterloo
St Salvator’s Chapel Choir (University of St Andrews),
Tim Wilkinson, Sean Heath (organ)
The Wallace Collection, Anthony George
Sanctiandree SAND0007. 71’23

Ernst Sachse: Concertino in B-flat major
Alexandre Guilmant: Morceau Symphonique
Jean Bellon: Adagio ma sostenuto (Quintette no. 12: III)
Sigismund von Neukomm: Requiem à la mémoire de Louis XVI

What an extraordinary recording! It combining musical curiosity with a fascinating peek at a history that many will recall from school. It features the joint forces of the Saint Salvator’s Chapel Choir of the University of Aberdeen and the brass instruments of The Wallace Collection, together with a historic organ dating from 1829 in a church that couldn’t be more appropriate for the programme. The principal work is the Requiem à la mémoire de Louis XVI by the Austrian composer, Sigismund von Neukomm (1778-1858). Composed in memory of the French King Louis (who was guillotined in 1793 at the height of the Revolution), it was first performed in 1815 in St Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna on the anniversary of the King’s death as a landmark event during the Congress of Vienna, the two-year gathering that brought to an end the Napoleonic Wars.

The first performance was attended by several European heads of state, and coincided with the day of the transfer of Louis’s body from an unmarked revolutionary grave to St Denis, the burial place of the Kings of France. There were more than 300 singers, divided into two choirs with separate conductors (Neukomm and Salieri). It was scored for double choir and organ together with a brass octet of a keyed trumpet, four hand-horns and three trombones. Tellingly, the brass forces are only used occasionally, to great dramatic effect.

The recording location was chosen because of the important 1829 James Bishop organ in St James, Bermondsey. The organ is a rare survival of a particular type of English organ from a transitional stage from the Baroque to the early Romantic era. It includes a number of innovations, including one of the first pedalboards in England and a small separate keyboard to the left of the console for an assistant to play the pedal part if the organist was not up to this new innovation. Appropriately, the church itself was one of the so-called ‘Waterloo Churches’ built with funding from the Waterloo Churches Commissioners in memory of lives lost during the Napoleonic Wars.

The 28-strong St Salvator’s Chapel Choir is the principal choir of the University of St Andrews, with a history dating back to the 15th-century when they were called Choristi Sanctiandree – hence the name of their own record label. They sing with an excellent cohesion of sound and texture under their Director, and University Organist, Tim Wilkinson. The University Keyboardist in Residence, Sean Heath, plays the organ skillfully, with well-chosen registrations, based on Neukomm’s own thoughts about English organs, of which he was a keen protagonist.

To complete the programme, the CD opens with three pieces for brass ensemble by Sachse, Guilmant, and Bellon. The Wallace Collection play on authentic period instruments, full details of which are included in the comprehensive liner notes (in English and German).