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RECORDING OF THE MONTH

 

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Ronald CORP (b. 1951)
Forever Child and Other Choral Music
Forever Child (2004) [12:20]
Verbum Patri (2002) [1:53]
Give to my eyes Lord* (2005) [4:01]
May the Lord bless you* (2001) [3:16]
Dover Beach (2003) [12:46]
Weep you no more sad fountains* (1997) [2:24]
Two part songs (1997) [3:18]
Four Elizabethan Lyrics* (1994) [9:17]
Lute-Book Lullaby (Sweet was the song) (1980) [1:30]
Fear no more the heat o’ the sun (2004)[2:57]
Missa San Marco (2002) [12:01]
Requiem  (2004) [1:55]
Voces Cantabiles/*Alexander Wells (piano)/Ronald Corp
rec. All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London, 26, 28 November 2005. DDD
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7171 [68:32]
 


Ronald Corp has already established a very strong reputation as a conductor of both choral and orchestral music. Now along comes a CD, which is as welcome as it is fine, that shows us what an excellent composer he is.
 
I was first alerted to this CD when a couple of tracks were played on BBC Radio Three. One was a gorgeous, quiet homophonic setting of ‘God be in my Head’. This is one of the set of pieces entitled Forever Child and it so impressed me that I ordered the disc without delay. I was not disappointed when it arrived and since then I’ve been returning to the disc repeatedly for sheer pleasure.
 
The aforementioned setting of ‘God be in my head’ is the sixth of the seven part songs that comprise Forever Child. The collection was composed by Corp to celebrate a little boy, Ben, who died tragically young not long after Corp had met him. These settings constitute a delightful and well-contrasted celebration of the innocence of childhood. The second of the set, ‘New Year’s Chimes’ appropriately evokes pealing bells in the choral writing. ‘Where go the boats’, to words by Robert Louis Stevenson, is wonderfully easeful and flowing. The seventh and last song, a setting of ‘On My First Sonne’ by Ben Jonson is a most touching homophonic envoi, which impressed me as much as any of the set. Incidentally, the very last track on the disc, Requiem, another Stevenson setting, is the piece with which Corp originally planned to end this little cycle but Ben’s parents asked him to set the Jonson poem instead. Requiem uses the same music but Corp expanded it for ‘On My First Sonne’ and I think this Jonson setting makes a better conclusion. Still it’s good to have Requiem as well and it was sensible to separate it on the disc from the cycle for which it was originally intended.
 
Corp has done much work with children’s choirs over the years and this is reflected in several of the compositions. The set of Four Elizabethan Lyrics was written for the Farnham Youth Choir and is an appropriate challenge for a choir that had just been named Sainsbury’s Choir of the Year. Here it’s the ladies of Voces Cantabiles that do the honours. I enjoyed them all but thought that the third, ‘Elegy for himself’ was particularly effective. The words of this were penned by one Chidlock Tichborne on the eve of his execution in 1585 at the age of just twenty-eight. Corp’s setting conveys very well the resignation and regret of the condemned man. After this the concluding Shakespeare setting, ‘When daffodils begin to peer’, with obbligato clapping by the singers, is a welcome and cheery contrast.
 
Weep you no more sad fountains is also a youth choir piece, taken from a larger cycle of pieces for children’s choir. It’s an innocent, pure little piece that makes an immediate and positive impact on the listener.
 
There are a couple of Christmas pieces. Verbum Patri reminded me of such carols as Walton’s What Cheer? – and none the worse for that. It’s in the style of a medieval carol and the lively irregular rhythms are a delight. By contrast Lute-Book Lullaby is a gentle and rather lovely little piece.
 
The most substantial offering is a setting of Mathew Arnold’s poem, Dover Beach, so memorably set previously by Samuel Barber. Corp’s version is highly atmospheric. The piece is the most complex on the disc and sounds far from easy to sing. It’s for eight-part choir and towards the end, in the section beginning “Ah, love, let us be true”, there’s a most effective additional part for a children’s choir. Here that part is sung, most effectively, by a solo soprano. For the most part the pulse of the music is slow and it sounds haunting, though there is a quicker, lighter section at “Sophocles long ago”. The concluding section is gravely beautiful and at the end Corp brings the work full circle by reprising the music with which everything began.
 
A more immediate impact is made by the unaccompanied Missa San Marco. Corp conducted the first performance of this work at Mass in St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, when he led the Highgate Choral Society on a visit there in 2002. In his note he tells us that the congregation applauded them at the end of Mass and, at the celebrant’s request, they encored the final section of the Gloria – the section beginning at ‘Quoniam tu solus’ I suspect. It’s not hard to see why this Mass setting should be so well received for it is tremendously appealing. The Gloria features dancing rhythms in its outer sections while the central portion is more calm and reflective. The Sanctus is joyful, starting with what sounds like pealing bells but the Benedictus, which follows without a break, is more reflective, as is the Hosanna with which it concludes. The predominantly tranquil Agnus Dei reprises material from the Kyrie. This is a lovely setting of the Mass, which should be within the compass of good church choirs and I hope it will be widely taken up.
 
But then that’s one of my hopes for this CD. As well as giving pleasure in its own right to listeners I hope it will be heard by many conductors of choirs and that it will provide them with the stimulus to perform Ronald Corp’s thoroughly engaging and expertly written choral music.  There’s some super music on this disc, music that cries out for wide circulation among choirs.
 
It’s impossible to imagine that Ronald Corp could have been better served than he is by Voces Cantabiles. I don’t know if the choir is comprised of professional singers but it sounds to be. The sound they produce is youthful, fresh and clear and their singing gives consistent pleasure. Happily they are given recorded sound of excellent clarity and ambience. All the texts are provided and Ronald Corp himself contributes an excellent note.
 
This CD has given me enormous pleasure from start to finish. I’m delighted that Dutton have issued it, continuing their admirable advocacy of English music. This is one of the most enjoyable discs to have come my way for a long time.
 
John Quinn
 

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For more information on Ronald Corp, visit www.ronaldcorp.com



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