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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Children of Our Time
Anthony PITTS (b.1969) Thou knowest my lying down (1993) [3.29]; Nicholas O’NEILL (b.1970) Ave Verum Corpus (1994) [5.56]; Ruth BYRCHMORE (1966) In the Silence of the night (1995) [14.44]; Mark EDGELY SMITH (b.1955) Five Madrigals to poems of e.e.cummings (1995) [11.50]; Sir Michael TIPPETT (1905-1998) Five Negro Spirituals (1958) [12.24]; Eugenio Manuel RODRIGUES (b.1958) Eres (1994) [6.03]; Francis POTT (b.1957) Amore langueo (1989) [15.41]
Schola Cantorum of Oxford/Jeremy Summerly
rec. Hertford College, Oxford, 10-11 March, 3 June 1995. DDD
HYPERION CDA67575 [70.18]



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 of highlights.

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 exploring.

Gary Higginson


 



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