You may be wondering,
if you look at the recording details,
why it has taken exactly eleven years
for Hyperion to release this interesting
CD. The booklet notes by Jeremy Summerly
dated 2006 given us some kind of a clue,
but not much. In any case he gives us
the background to its presentation and
the excellently balanced programme.
I quote: "The recording was intended
as a ninetieth birthday tribute to Britain’s
leading composer" (Sir Michael
Tippett). "Events overtook the
CD’s release however and it is now offered
as posthumous testament to Tippett’s
unfailing belief in the restorative
power of new music." Indeed it
is a programme that would have warmed
his heart; the more’s the pity for its
tardiness. There are many names here
that will be new to most of you. These
young composers who would have benefited
from a prompt release.
So the next question
is how was the programme chosen? Back
in 1994 Schola Cantorum held an international
Composition Competition which was undertaken
with financial support from the ever-faithful
Holst Foundation. The new works recorded
here by O’Neill, Edgley Smith and Rodrigues
were winning entries. Pitts was a singer
in the choir at the time, and the work
by Byrchmore was commissioned by the
choir. These new pieces intersperse
Tippett’s Five Negro Spirituals;
taken from his oratorio A child
of our time hence the allusion in
the CD’s title. The disc ends with a
major work by Francis Pott Amore
langueo (I am faint with love)
which intriguingly sets two versions
of the same medieval poem.
The texts chosen by
the composers make an eclectic mix.
Ruth Byrchmore takes some melancholic
poems by Christina Rossetti. Equally
elliptical is the e.e. cummings. Edgley
Smith’s more harmonically ambiguous
language is highly suited to their aphoristic
style. The Bible appears twice. Rodrigues’
simple, almost minimalist contribution
is a setting of great beauty of a poem
by Pablo Neruda.
I am very glad that
all texts are given because the diction
of the choir is sadly disappointing.
At first I was prepared to put this
down to the hallowing acoustic of Hertford
College which I have experience of myself.
I wonder why it is so often favoured
by recording engineers. But as I listened
even more carefully I decided that consonants
were often missing especially in homophonic
passages. Having said that the singing
is of a sensational standard at times
and wonderful at others.
Which pieces stand
out? There is no doubt that, as you
might expect, the Tippett is brilliantly
successful. I should also say immediately
that all of the music makes a real and
genuine impression with no weak links.
Here however is my brief personal choice
I was most moved by
Francis Pott’s work. Its sustained fifteen
minute drama, in a post-Howells harmonic
language, is tinged with a very personal
and often ecstatic lyricism. The CD
opens beautifully like a flowering rose
with a brief and perfectly formed setting
by Anthony Pitts of an Easter Hymn.
This burgeoning effect is related by
a gradually opening out of the twelve
parts into glowing chord clusters and
then fading away again. I was also much
taken by Mark Edgley Smith’s Madrigals,
with a sound-world at times not unlike
an austere Maxwell Davies. I enjoyed
this more individual approach to harmony
and vocal effects - as in the fourth
madrigal - than in some of the others.
There is a pale bleakness which suits
the poetry in ‘Now I lay’ with its unisons
growing into clusters and back again.
Sometimes these clusters illustrate
certain words like ‘Spring’ and at the
end ‘Sing’ (as in the second madrigal).
In the third madrigal the rich harmonies
build with the aid of a general crescendo
from unison to a glorious homophony.
These are pieces I will return to, as
I will to the entire CD.
This is a generally
fine and interesting disc: well worth