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Blue In Blue
Patrick HAWES (b.1958): Quanta Qualia; Swan; Italian Song; O Waly Waly; Dressed in Blue; Pavane; The Waters of Love; Blue in Blue; Rain; The Blue Bird Variations
Janet Coxwell (soprano)
Andrew Busher (tenor)
Charles Daniels (tenor)
Timothy Bennett (baritone)
Hugh Webb (harp)
Stephanie Gonley (violin)
Jo Knight (cello)
Andrew West (piano)
English Chamber Orchestra/Patrick Hawes
Recorded 4-5 September 2002, St. Jude’s on the Hill, London
BLACK BOX BBM1081 [66.02]


Patrick Hawes studied music at Durham and went on to teach music at Pangbourne College before becoming a full-time composer. He has been composer-in-residence at Charterhouse and wrote the music for the film, ‘The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie’. The present disc, which was recorded in 2002, forms a showcase both for Hawes’ talents and the talents of his own choir, Conventus. The programme consists of 9 shorter items plus the more substantial variations on Stanford’s part-song ‘The Blue Bird’.

The disc opens with ‘Quanta Qualia’, a setting for choir and orchestra of a short Latin poem written by his brother Andrew, who was responsible for the texts of many of the pieces on the disc. The choir’s diction is disappointing, but the sound is stunning, with haunting repetitions of choral chords over a long arching melody in the orchestra. Conventus make a very clean and pure English sound which suits Hawes’ music well.

In ‘Swan’, the dialogue of solo violin and cello over throbbing strings is intended by Hawes to evoke the tranquillity of summer afternoons, but for this reviewer the piece also had unnerving reminiscences of Sondheim’s ‘Send in the Clowns’.

‘Italian Song’ sets a text by Guarini originally used by Monteverdi in his 8th book of Madrigals. Opening with a lovely alto solo before being taken up by the whole choir, the piece is very romantic in feel and does not really reflect the pain of the poem’s suffering lover, though, part of the way through, Hawes creates music of heartbreaking loveliness on the words Dolcissimo uscignolo (Sweetest Nightingale).

‘O Waly Waly’ uses the traditional words and melody in a new arrangement by Hawes. Again the orchestration and textures are stunningly lovely. But there is little sense of the pain and bitterness inherent in the words, just the enjoyment of sound for its own sake.

‘Dressed in Blue’ is the first unaccompanied piece and is reminiscent of the close harmonies beloved of the King's Singers. ‘Pavane’, which comes from the film ‘The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie’, is an attractive little piece for guitar with reminiscences of ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’.

‘The Waters of Love’ is from Hawes dramatic cantata, ‘The Wedding at Cana’ which was premiered in 1990 at Pangbourne College. Written for just 2 voices and harp, it evoked, for me, memories of ‘Impossible Dream’ from ‘Man of La Mancha’.

Hawes has a gift for writing stunning over-arching melodies, rich with yearning and longing. These, combined with his stunning orchestrations, mean that the pieces on this disc are undeniably lovely. Their atmosphere and eternal longing would not seem out of place in one of those compilations entitle ‘Agnus Dei’ or ‘Sanctus’. Taken individually, each piece is charming, but nearly all of them partake of the same mood and after listening to them one after another, I felt rather sated and longed for something to break the mood; something which added greater depth.

The final piece on the disc, the Blue Bird Variations, signally fails to add any depth to the programme. Written for choir and orchestra, it presents Stanford’s original with some unnecessary added orchestral accompaniment and then a series of five variations. It provides a mood picture based on a fragment of the original. These variants are titled ‘Lake’, ‘Bird’, ‘Sky’, ‘Moment’ and ‘Image’. The chorus are generally restricted to Stanford-esque homophony with the orchestra adding commentary. The piece is full of lovely moments, but for me these failed to add up to a coherent whole. Only rarely is the atmosphere of melancholy longing broken.

Hawes is well supported by his musicians. Conventus make a stunning sound and the English Chamber Orchestra give good support. Soprano soloist Janet Coxwell makes light of some of Hawes’ stratospherically high lines.

Hawes is undoubtedly a fine composer and I can see individual pieces from this disc becoming popular. But taken as a whole, the programme does not really do justice to Hawes as it seems to showcase just one aspect of his talent. There is only so much melancholy yearning that I can take, no matter how attractive it is.

Robert Hugill



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