Winners of the First International Composers' Competition.
The Prayer of Saint Francis interrupted by Birds
The Sun's Blinking Eye
Budapest SO and Hungarian
Radio and TV Chorus/Tamas Vasary.
0156 CD available from: Kodaly Foundation, Budapest
To my knowledge this is the first music by Patric Standford that has been
commercially recorded and very welcome it is too. The composer tells me that
his Clarinet Quintet is to come in this New Year. It is sadly ironic too
that it is a Hungarian label that has marked the composer's 60th
birthday with this release. Standford won the 'Zoltan Kodaly First International
Composers Competition' in 1997 and this is a recording of the concert of
the three winning works presented here in reverse order, a particularly arresting
idea. But what a sad situation that no British Company has yet recorded anything
of Standford's astonishingly varied and brilliant output and how appalling
that the BBC now ignores the composer's works.
To give a little background to this work let us look back briefly over Patric
Standford's career to date and attempt to put this work in context.
In the 60s he was a pupil of Edmund Rubbra (in 1976 Standford dedicated his
Meditation on the birth of Christ to 'Edmund Rubbra my teacher and
.') at the Guildhall School of Music and later went on to teach
there. In 1964 he was awarded the Mendelssohn travel scholarship studying
with, amongst others,
LutosÓ awski. The influence
of both of these men can be found in The Prayer.
Standford is remarkably versatile. His catalogue includes outstanding works
in the choral field for professionals and amateurs, light music, as well
as six symphonies, concertos and the remarkable Christus Requiem.
He has also arranged music for the London Palladium and for West End shows
and has produced a Jazz album with the group Continuum. I cannot understand
why the Christmas Carol Symphony (1978) is not better known. It is
a masterful work of great charm and, like all of Patric's orchestral works,
marvellously orchestrated. There was a time when his music was regularly
heard on Radio 3, but after the mixed reception given to his 5th
Symphony (1986) with its quotes from Mozart and Elgar so prominent, his music
has been overlooked. Indeed this seems to have occurred soon after his move
from London to Bretton Hall near Leeds to take up a position as Director
of Music; obviously once in the north then easily forgotten.
It is true to say that quotation has played an important role in some of
his works, but his music is also strikingly original. In fact there is nothing
like it in British music, which probably explains why he is so rarely performed
over here. It must be remembered that he has won 'the Premio Citta di Trieste'
with his 1st Symphony, subtitled The Seasons. The Christus
Requiem won the Yugoslavian Solidarity Award' in 1975. And his
3rd Symphony Towards Paradise won the 'City of Geneva Ernest
Ansermet Prize' in 1985. There have been other international successes which
there is not space for me to go into.
My own connection with his music will become apparent as I write but I have
performed in several works including the Christus Requiem (1973) and
some of the lighter works. I have heard most of his major works and have
studied the scores now for some 20 years. I was a private pupil of his for
a year and also studied orchestration with him whilst a student at the Guildhall.
So to this new work. What of its inspiration and soundworld?
Standford describes it as A Masque in five scenes for Chorus and
Orchestra. The text by St Francis is in Italian. Standford set the text
before in his Cantico della Creature for Voice and Strings in 1976,
and, it seems to me, to be the culmination of much of his serious composition.
In a sense also, Rubbra's mysticism lies somewhere at the back of this music
and the vocal writing has certain similarities.
Scene 1 Old Assisi - Dawn. The opening burst of sunrise and its colours
reminded me of the first chord of
LutosÓ awski's Jeux
Vénitiens (1961) thereafter we hear a thick texture (everything
is clear however) almost claustrophobic with a sense of Italian heat. Strings
pierce with rising 5ths, and there are strikingly audible temple
blocks and other percussion which remind me of Standford's Symphony No 4
Taikyoku for two pianos and percussion (1976).
Scene 2 The Saint begins to pray. Here the chorus enters with a gradual
intensification of their opening counterpoint. The orchestra make gestures
with rising scales like prayers. I can only think that it was Rubbra who
emphasised to the young Standford as to all of his pupils, the importance
of clear orchestral textures as found here. Then, for me, a surprise. To
explain this I need to go back over 25 years. In 1972 Standford was composing
his huge masterpiece Christus Requiem. At that point, before its 1980
revision, lasting 2 hours. This was performed complete at St. Paul's Cathedral
by students and professionals in March 1973. Part 2 of the work was the 'Requiem
Aeternam' (begun as a student exercise in the late 60s.) Standford quotes
this here at Fig.38. for 16 bars. A strident trumpet rising major
9th which cuts through the texture characterises these bars. Gerald
Larner in an article on the Christus Requiem (Musical Times March
1973) said "
this theme graphically represents the idea of Resurrection".
In The prayer the text translates "be praised my Lord for sister water
who is invaluable, humble
Scene 3 The Saint's prayer is interrupted by hundreds of birds. To
achieve the truly remarkable effect of teeming birds arriving to visit the
saint, Standford uses a technique which
LutosÓ awski first
developed in the aforementioned Jeux Vénitiens a 'limited aleatoric
technique', wherein musicians are given an enhanced degree of freedom within
a fixed notational framework. The duration of each section is indicated by
the conductor who indicates where the players are with downbeats marked in
the score clearly as letters. Each musician performs his part freely within
those downbeats. After studying with
LutosÓ awski, Standford
adopted this technique in two early works now published by Novello: Nocturne
(1967) and Notte (1968) but for purely abstract, musical reasons.
The great success of its use here is impressionist and descriptive yet still
the textures are wonderfully clear.
Scene 4 St. Francis feels the joy of the Lord's greatness. Heralded
by trumpets the chorus continues with the text. This section is just 33 bars
Scene 5 The birds encircle St. Francis in prayer. After an orchestral
glissando one of three which bring to mind Alban Berg (one of Standford's
favourite composers) the choir enters with the text 'Laudato si, per sora
nostra morte' (be praised for our sister the mortal, death.) The thick,
claustrophobic 8-part chords which gently oscillate encompassing within them
no more than a 12th are again to be found in the Christus
Requiem in the final Amen which was, after the revision, to find its
way into the closing pages of his 3rd Symphony Towards
Paradise (1986). There are about 50 bars of quotation from these earlier
works. Whereas the Requiem ends with orchestra and choir having reached an
orgasmic climax reminiscent of Scriabin, in The Prayer Standford pulls
off a brave coup of adding after this climax 8 bars of unaccompanied chorus
culminating in unison As. It must be left
to the listener to decide how successful this is.
Thus ends a truly astonishing and unique work. Its impact reduced even in
this good quality recording by the fact that it must be experienced 'live'.
I urge those with influence to have the courage to investigate this work
further. The lack of performance in Britain is a national disgrace and needs
to be remedied.
This disc has also been reviewed by Rob
Barnett and David Wright
CD BR 0156
price $15.00 incl. Postage
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