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Commemoration of the Life of Linda McCartney - Choral music

A Garland for Linda by: John Tavener, Judith Bingham, John Rutter, David Matthews, Sir Paul McCartney, Roxanna Panufnik, Michel Berkeley, Giles Swayne, Sir Richard Rodney Bennett
Vaughan Williams Silence and Music
The Joyful Company of Singers/Peter Broadbent
rec November 1999 All Saints Church, Tooting proceeds of sale go to The Garland Appeal EMI CLASSICS CDC5 56961 2 [55.15]

On 17 April 1998 Linda McCartney died of breast and liver cancer. A photographer, animal rights campaigner, songwriter and generous supporter of many charities her name is likely to be most widely known for her two vegetarian cookbooks (each phenomenally successful) and for her the range of vegetarian ready-made meals produced under her name. She married composer Paul McCartney in 1969. They had four children: Heather, Mary, Stella and James.

It is given to relatively few people to have a musical work written to commemorate their lives. Still fewer prompt a work of such rich and multi-stranded musicianship. Its model was A Garland for the Queen written by a number of British composers to mark the Queen's Coronation in 1953. From that work we hear, as a prelude, the Bluebird-like and distanced hush of Vaughan Williams Silence and Music.

The Tavener (Prayer for the Healing of the Sick) is heavy with incense and Greek Orthodox atmosphere and luxuriant in cosseted soft singing reminiscent of the Rachmaninov Vespers. Bingham's Water Lilies hums gently with Howellsian harmony - though somehow less dense - a fly-away feathery texture. Its heritage in Holst's Neptune, its virtuosity in poetic effect and choral resource marks this out as one of the strongest tracks here: original but not outlandish. The Rutter (Musica dei donum), with Philippa Davies' flute, has the spring dip and curtsey of Copland's Appalachian Spring - strong in its slenderness with bird song weaving in and through the singing. Rutter is too oft written off - perhaps because of his success. David Matthews' Doorway Of The Dawn has a burly beauty resounding again with Rachmaninov's Vespers. Matthews worked with Sir Paul on Standing Stone.

McCartney's own Nova is touching and strong - arranged by saxophonist John Harle the choral voices circle ascending and descending like some great stratosphere-dwelling bird. Roxanna Panufnik's I dream'd is one of the more thorny settings in the anthology - though still easy enough. Michael Berkeley's Farewell infused with an ineffable sadness - along with the Bingham one of the most memorable tracks here. Giles Swayne (famous for his CRY for the BBC Singers - an early CD) in his the flight of the swan is by far the most challenging of the 9 tracks - wailing and catching and chattering and crying, the night creatures burrow, wriggle and flourish their coal black feathers. Finally Richard Rodney Bennett (whose music for thee BBC's Gormenghast was part of the success of that series) in his A Good-Night returns to the British choral tradition (as known by most people) with the blue-eyed magic of the vocal works of Moeran and Finzi.

Stephen Connock (whose background notes are included in the booklet) of the Vaughan Williams society heads up the Garland Appeal whose aims is to raise funds for cancer research and British music. The notes are very full, beautifully presented and the sung texts are there in full.

A lovely disc which thankfully is not simply a memento mori but one to which you will want to return again. I also hope that those who buy it because of the Paul McCartney connection might be tempted to explore British choral music further in the same way that I hope similar work has been done by McCartney's Liverpool Oratorio and his symphonic poem Standing Stone.


Rob Barnett


Should you wish to make a donation please send a cheque payable to The Garland Appeal to

The Garland Appeal, PO Box 1, London EC2Y 8PN


Rob Barnett

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