‘I still think it isn’t half bad’: Music 1951–1952
Montgomery’s busy period continued with the first performance of his most ambitious work, An Oxford Requiem. it was commissioned by the Oxford Bach Choir to celebrate the Festival of Britain and performed with the London Symphony Orchestra under Thomas Armstrong in the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, on 22 May 1951. it was well received, with a particularly good notice from The Times:
At a special Festival of Britain concert at the Sheldonian Theatre last night, Dr. Thomas Armstrong conducted the Oxford Bach Choir and the London Symphony Orchestra in the first performance of ‘An Oxford Requiem’ for chorus and orchestra by Bruce Montgomery, a young oxford-nurtured musician whose work has already won him a London publisher and no mean reputation.
Like that of Brahms, it is a protestant Requiem with its words taken from the psalms and the burial service, and even were there no inscription to the memory of a friend in the score, the music itself would betray that it was written under strong compulsion. it plays for only 30 minutes, but the imaginative flash which illumines each of the four movements burns all the brighter for this concentration. Alike in the piercing prayer for deliverance from the ‘bitter pains of eternal death’ (from the burial service) at the lowest ebb of grief in the third movement, and in the exultant climaxes of the second and fourth movements depicting the confident hope of the Christian believer, the music is as trenchant as it is moving. It is Montgomery’s most considerable achievement to date; it confirms the suspicion that he is a composer with something of real significance to say.
The choir […] showed few signs of dismay at the Requiem’s often exacting chromaticism. 1