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Benoit’s tragedy wasn’t so much that he invested too deeply in the formation of a ‘Flemish school’ but that the Flemish school invested too heavily in Peter Benoit. And yet his legacy is grand, even if it hasn’t quite yet overcome the obvious linguistic hurdle. The exception is his great religious tetralogy, of which the 1861 Mass (‘Hoogmis’) is the second part and the Requiem the fourth. The Mass is written without much reference to the history of church music, recent or ancient. It’s direct and dramatic, soberly orchestrated and very moving. Likewise the Requiem, which Benoit conceived as a ‘poem of death and future life’, contrasting the tonal fractiousness of Gregorian chant (which is at least here clearly referenced) with a harmonic fulsomeness that always points heavenwards. The twinned choirs and minimal accompaniment place most of the musical weight on the voices and the texts are beautifully delivered, with a kind of chastened optimism.

BRIAN MORTON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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