Two works from the
1980s take their place in the line-up of four issues in the
EMI British Composers series this month. The theme is war and
remembrance. Patterson’s Missa Brevis is an a cappella
setting here deftly delivered by a large, precise yet emotionally
communicative choir. The style is orthodox yet highly inventive.
Try the Sanctus which has an ecstatic high-soaring line
contrasted with a pecked out and swung bass motif. This impressive
five section mass was originally issued in harness with Patterson’s
1983 Mass of the Sea.
The major work here
is Michael Berkeley’s Or Shall We Die? to words by Ian
McEwan. This was written in protest against the potential for
nuclear conflict. Heather Harper is in consummately entrancing
voice rising to ecstasy against a spectacularly vigorous backdrop.
The orchestral canvas is gruff and troubled yet not especially
avant-garde. The style can loosely be related to Tippett in
his most flowing mode and at times to the stutter and anger
of Britten in the War Requiem. The brass are splendidly
commanding as also is David Wilson-Johnson. It is good to hear
both these voices again and especially Harper whose voice serves
as both benediction and passionate exhortation.
The sung texts are
not provided which is a pity as without the words we lose contact
with the detail of Berkeley’s and McEwan’s message. Its broad
thrust is however undimmed in a work that has not dated – the
music is too strong for that. I would rather like to compare how
the passage of years have treated another big piece from those
days: The Women of Greenham – if anyone has a CDR copy
of that two LP set.
are two comparatively modern works leaning on the one hand on
protest and on the other on a choral legacy stretching back to
Byrd and Tallis.