Will Todd has an indefatigable gift of writing
melodic music which speaks direct to today's audiences. At the
same time he can trace a lineage back to Howells, Bax, Stanford
and Byrd. Three years ago I reviewed a CD of his Saxophone Concerto
and the suite from the opera Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Todd's
music can be extremely impressive. I would place it in the UK
scene in a strain similar to the music of Lionel Sainsbury, Ian
Venables and the late Carey Blyton. In the case of the present
CD he is found in the modest, yet highly active and exposed field
of writing for choir.
Christus Estella melds reflection and
passion in a model in which harmony and the ecstatic ‘alleluias’
of Bax's masterpiece Mater Ora Filium are superbly combined.
Similar, richly endowed works in this anthology are None other
lamb, A Boy was Born, Song of Simeon and, with
its opulently swaying Carver-like harmony, The Virgin's Song.
Christus natus est has a rugged choral blaze while The
Windhover (also set by Tippett) has both a chirping organ
part and the dense grandeur of Vaughan Williams' Bunyan motet
Mr Valiant for Truth.
There are several tracks where Todd audaciously
embraces simplicity - a parallel course to that of John Rutter
though with personal results. Here there is no hiding place for
workaday ideas; none of the camouflage of a complexity or expressive
invention written for composers, critics and cliques. Ave Verum
Corpus deploys a simple tune with piano; Lighting the way
likewise. Every stone shall cry is also instantly appealing
with its echoes of Horovitz's Noah and his floating Zoo and
Malcolm Arnold's Song of Simeon. A touch of rumba rhythm
will remind us of William Mathias's Dance Overture and
the Malcolm Williamson opera Our Man In Havana as well
as Alan Bush's grossly underrated The Sugar Reapers. Although
Merryn Gamba's vibrato plays up throughout Lead me Lord this
is another piece in which melodic invention rises triumphant.
The Gloria too has a populist touch. In the sleepy Christ-child,
the velvety piano strokes are a master-stroke (00.51); a little
detail but one that really registers.
Full Score is a choir, here comprising four singers
for each register (soprano, alto, tenor, bass). Interesting to
see Merryn Gamba's name among the sopranos. She may be familiar
to those who snapped up Chandos's CD of the complete film music
for Scott of the Antarctic. Hers was the solo vocalise
in the BBCPO recording of that eerily beautiful score.
Plenty of material here for choral conductors
and listeners ready to be surprised by the seemingly endless resources
of tonality and the human voice ... carpe diem.