This is a promotional CD - a calling card for
the composer to use to persuade those most obdurate of institutions,
opera managements, to commit to a premiere. It was almost certainly
made at the same sessions as those which produced the recording
of Todd's major choral-orchestral work,
The first thing that strikes you about this music
and its performance is its loyalty to the words. They can all
be heard. The operatic kit of smudged vowels and swallowed consonants
is anathema to Todd and his librettist.
The musical language is direct and unflowery.
The music is clear and dramatically well-tuned and balanced. The
music and for that matter the plotline rests in territory related
to that of Alan Bush in his always ideologically charged operas
whether it is Joe Hill or The Sugar Reapers or Wat
Tyler or the Men of Blackmoor. Other reference points
include the more serious moments in Sondheim's Sweeney Todd
and Malcolm Williamson's Our Man in Havana. There is
an awe-struck quality about this music especially in Judge Parke's
sentencing of the all-but-blameless, Jobling. Jobling is, by the
way, ‘The Blackened Man’. His sentence in 1830s North-Eastern
England is to be hanged and gibbeted in a metal cage; his body
with its death agonies is to be preserved with molten pitch. The
cage is to be paraded from village to village to discourage further
strikes. Its ‘grand tour’ will call at 'brutish stinking Jarrow'
where Jobling’s family will smell his corpse 'on the wind'. Todd's
lyrical gift is very strong indeed witness 'the water's cold ...
I feel it' as sung by Isabella in the first Pithead track at 1.32.
This opera promises to be a significant piece
of work easily accessible to the musical public though possibly
tough going for those who take exception to Todd’s histprical
It is good to hear Christopher Austin conducting
the Hallé. I do hope that we will hear more of him. In
pipe-dreams we can imagine Austin conducting a complete cycle
of the Williamson symphonies although closer to this disc I would
gladly welcome a complete recording of The Blackened Man.
If you are at all drawn to modern opera and to
figures such as Daniel Catán and Lionel Sainsbury then
you should ask for a copy of this disc and barrack your 'local'
opera-house to premiere the complete opera.