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Patrick LARLEY (b. 1951)
On a Fine Morning: songs for solo voice and piano

Song cycle: On a Fine Morning (Thomas Hardy): (A Church Romance; On a Fine Morning; If it’s ever Spring again; The Darkling Thrush; Great Things)
Sonnet 116 (William Shakespeare)
The Good-morrow (John Donne)
My True Love hath my Heart (Sir Philip Sydney)
Now is the time at hand - a lute song
Some there are - a madrigal
Oh be thou blest (Alexander Pope)
Five British Folksongs (She moves through the Fair; Jock O’Hazeldene; The Nightingale; Barbara Allen; Sally Gardens)
Two Christina Rossetti songs: (A Birthday; Song)
Sue Tyson soprano
Richard Roddis tenor
Patrick Larley piano
Rec. 14 July 2001. DDD
PLCD 003 [48:31]

Patrick LARLEY (b. 1951)
The Rose of Peace: a capella choral music

A Girl for the Blue
Three poems by W.B.Yeats: (The Lake Isle of Innisfree; The Rose of Peace; He wishes for the cloths of heaven)
On the Edge of Glory.
Two Divine poems by John Donne
Two Medieval Carols
The Lark in the clear air
Linden Lea
Chudleigh’s Companie/composer
Rec. Ellesmere College Chapel, 7 March 1999. DDD
PLCD 001 [49:46]


Patrick Larley sent the present two CDs to me following my review of the choral music of Margaret Wegener. His music, like Wegener's is in the bitter-sweet English lyrical tradition. Also like hers, Larley's music is rounded by the natural rise and fall of the human voice and by the yielding and resilient treasury of English poetry. The pieces here all date from the 1990s.

Larley was born in 1951 in Frodsham, Cheshire just over the Mersey from where the present reviewer lives. After study at what was then the Royal Manchester College of Music his career took him to various cathedrals as organist and choral director. These included St. Asaph and Wells. Based in the village of Worthenbury, Wrexham, North Wales he is now a freelance composer, conductor, harpsichordist and organist balancing these duties with being music director for the Nantwich and Ludlow choral societies.

His choice of poetry in the first CD (songs for tenor and soprano with Larley as pianist) typifies his involvement with the lyric tradition. The five song Hardy cycle On a Fine Morning (1995) immediately proclaims his melodic signature which is Finzian but with an accommodating attitude to soft dissonance and tricky rhythmic curls. The voice is also called on to take on some Britten-like plaintive excursions. There is a bleakness in these songs (strong in The Darkling Thrush) that is completely in character with Hardy. The most instantly likeable songs are the optimistic Great Things with its rumba under-pinning, the harmonic adventure and the romantic and almost 1940s filmic If it's ever spring again with its melodic line seemingly gripped by a tribute to Constant Lambert - try at 00.15. Richard Roddis has a blessedly clear and pliable tenor without any noticeable vibrato. Words emerge with definition and Roddis's voice rings out in commanding fortissimo when required.

Also cathedral bell-clear is the voice of Sue Tyson. Her boyish voice always feminine lets every word of the Shakespeare sonnet 116 ring out. This is the first of three soprano songs written in 1992. The piano line in Donne's The Good Morrow provides a lyre-like canvas for this honeyedly high lying song. The Philip Sydney setting of My True Love Hath My Heart has an antique dancing delicacy. Again the vocal part lies very high. Much of Oh be thou blest (setting Alexander Pope) is unaccompanied - the solitary singer indeed.

Back to Mr Roddis for fine skilled arrangements of Five British Folksongs. She moves through the fair is suitably dewy and sincere. The Jock O'Hazeldene song is set in the manner of Warlock. Larley begins the cycle with a familiar and moving song and ends in the same manner - delectably mournful.

The disc ends with Two Christina Rossetti Songs with Sue Tyson. A Birthday is again delicate though not quite as stratospheric as Sonnet 116. As ever, Larley shapes and signs the music with slight harmonic squeezes and twists. A bleakly dreaming land is evoked through Rossetti's sorrowing Song. Tyson has one of those undervalued voices akin to Catherine Bott and Susan Hamilton - evergreen and young-sounding, the poles of innocence and knowledge constantly meeting and shifting.

The song CD is not just for obsessive completists of English music. It is for all those who cherish the best English song tradition unsullied by operatic blowsiness and still dew fresh, humane and singable. Larley is fortunate to have such fine singers involved in this project but also the songs seem to the listener to be grateful to sing so perhaps Tyson and Roddis feel equally blessed.

The second CD is The Rose Of Peace. It includes a selection of Larley's a cappella choral music. The singers are Larley's Chudleigh's Companie an ensemble of four sopranos, four altos, two tenors and three basses. Sue Tyson is among the sopranos and Richard Roddis one of the two tenors.

These pieces are in the exalted cathedral tradition. With the solo voice of Sue Tyson rising out in ecstasy or pained protest as in A Girl for the Blue. The texture of these settings is fine, completely resolved and focused. Here in the, at times Delian, Three Yeats settings Larley plays with the honeyed decay of bell tones; especially in the striking but subtle The Rose Of Peace. On the edge of Glory was written for St Columba's Church in Chester - it mixes the plainchant and Celtic traditions and, unusually on this disc, includes a brief and querulous Gaelic instrumental voice - in this case the recorder.

The Two Divine Poems by John Donne draw from Larley the most complex and dissonant music on this disc - a tour de force for any choir. Tired of Spem in alium, Bax's Mater ora Filium or Strauss's Eine Deutsches Motette? If so give this rewarding and challenging piece a try.

In the Two Medieval Poems Larley captures the expected style of such music but here matched up with a contemporary sensuousness (tr. 8 1:02) in Hayle, Flowre of Vyrgynyte. Wolcome Yole! is playful with explosions of sound dotted across its miniature landscape.

The Lark in the Clear Air recalls RVW's folk settings as once recorded by Christopher Bishop in which solo tenor and baritone voice s play a leading part. Speaking of Vaughan Williams, Larley's choral arrangements of RVW’s Linden Lea is smoothly and respectfully handled. Then and finally, comes the daringly innocent setting of Vespers by A.A. Milne - an arrangement of the tune by H. Fraser Simpson. This is a delicate fencing match between high art and the twee. Frankly it's a delight but I can see some may find it a queasy experience. Those innocent exclamations of Oh! might well push some more fastidious people over the edge. The rest of us can enjoy this smilingly innocent moment in time. I think Larley will make many new friends through this piece - definitely one for Classic FM, if only they are listening.

This Rose of Peace disc runs the range of Larley's choral music from the most exalted and demanding high art, as in the Donne settings, to the audaciously sentimental - the Christopher Robin song.

On this showing Larley’s other works should be well worth hearing. The notes list: Pneuma for symphonic wind band (1991); Sonatina for Classical Organ (1992); Fanfara alla Fuga for symphony orchestra (1994); On the Edge of Glory (1997); Symphonie of the Nativitie (1997); Appearing, Shining, Distant or Near (1998); Stone Circles (1998) and A Mass of a Thousand Ages - written for the new millennium. It would be good to hear some of these more ambitious works.

Unlike the songs CD, all the words for the choral disc are printed in the insert.

Well worth getting ... and while you are at it I am sure you will enjoy the two CDs of songs and choral pieces by Margaret Wegener. Both are also reviewed here at:-

Two fine CDs representing Patrick Larley - a considerable and distinctive voice in the English vocal tradition.

Rob Barnett

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