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Will TODD (b.1970)
Saint Cuthbert - oratorio (1995)
words by Ben Dunwell
Patricia Rozario (sop) - Angel
John Hudson (ten) - Cuthbert
Graeme Danby (bass) - Man
Durham Singers; Hallé Choir;
Northern Sinfonia Chorus
Hallé Orchestra/Christopher Austin
rec. 2-4 June 2001, Studio 7, BBC Manchester DDD
THE NORTHUMBRIAN ANTHOLOGY MWM CDSP56 [79.02]



This is the third review of this disc to appear here. You are referred to the other two reviews for more specific details and personal insights.

Todd's innate allegiance to tonality is well grasped. It has been there from the very beginning. You can hear it in his 1993 opera Isambard Kingdom Brunel which was premiered at Bristol's Colston Hall. Going by the two scenes I have heard of his latest opera, The Blackened Man, that natural conviction continues undimmed.

Both Rozario and Hudson sing their hearts out for this recording. I mention them with no disrespect to the bass whose role is in the shadow of Cuthbert and the Angel. Listen in track 3 to writing that reminded me of the passage from RVW's Dona Nobis Pacem, 'word over all'. The ‘remora’ of the solo violin shadows the sleek and shapely leviathan of Rozario's superb voice. The choral writing in Plague and Healing (tr. 4) carries horror-charged intimations of pestilence and chaos.

Todd's stylistic 'bloodline' can loosely be related to Vaughan Williams and Finzi. His more vigorous moments suggest a knowledge of Peter Racine Fricker's unusually Waltonian work A Vision of Judgement - for solo voices, chorus and orchestra. Walton and that untypical Fricker work are called to mind by the writing for percussion. Here is a composer who can 'speak' majesty without bombast. His darting and stabbing trumpet writing in Plague and Healing (tr. 4) is noteworthy and carries over into Enthronement with its Sancta Civitas radiant exaltation.

Part 2 of the oratorio, which sees the death of Cuthbert, continues the exalted atmosphere in the peaceful warming glow of Lindisfarne (tr.6). The Vikings movement sings of the Norsemen's onslaughts on the Anglo-Saxon communities with percussive and staccato writing that passim suggests Carl Orff's Trionfi. The threat and foreboding recall Sondheim's music for the arrival of the American men of war in Pacific Overtures. The sea and its untiring motion is summoned by The Tide. The last of the ten sections, Prayer is, at 11.58, the longest episode. Here the consummation of homecoming is unmistakable as Cuthbert's spirit and community finds permanent rest and benediction in Durham. All ends in a bright sunburst of resounding hosannas.

Todd's productivity bids fair to outperform Bantock, Villa-Lobos and Martinů. It is difficult to keep up with him but let me assure you that in a crowded musical world the effort is well worth your while. Let us hope that both Isambard Kingdom Brunel opera and The Blackened Man will soon find a production and a record company.

The sung texts are given in full as part of the stylishly presented yet functionally generous booklet.

I mentioned various other composers as triangulation points earlier in this review. I should also have referred to the grander choral-orchestral works of William Mathias. While Todd's way with the percussion is not quite as gaudy as Mathias's the choral and orchestral writing have certain resonances.

Rob Barnett

see also reviews by Lewis Foreman and Neil Horner

 



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