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Paul PATTERSON (b. 1947)
Missa Brevis op. 54 (1985) [27:03]
Michael BERKELEY (b. 1948)
Or Shall We Die? (words: Ian McEwan) (1983) [39:03]
London Philharmonic Choir/Owain Arwel Hughes (Patterson)
Heather Harper (soprano); David Wilson-Johnson (baritone)
London Symphony Chorus/London Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox (Berkeley)
rec. St Augustine’s Kilburn, 16-18 June 1986 (Patterson); No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London, 29 February, 1 March 1984. DDD
EMI CLASSICS BRITISH COMPOSERS 5059212 [66:05]

 


Two works from the 1980s take their place in the line-up of four issues in the EMI British Composers series this month. The theme is war and remembrance. Patterson’s Missa Brevis is an a cappella setting here deftly delivered by a large, precise yet emotionally communicative choir. The style is orthodox yet highly inventive. Try the Sanctus which has an ecstatic high-soaring line contrasted with a pecked out and swung bass motif. This impressive five section mass was originally issued in harness with Patterson’s 1983 Mass of the Sea.

The major work here is Michael Berkeley’s Or Shall We Die? to words by Ian McEwan. This was written in protest against the potential for nuclear conflict. Heather Harper is in consummately entrancing voice rising to ecstasy against a spectacularly vigorous backdrop. The orchestral canvas is gruff and troubled yet not especially avant-garde. The style can loosely be related to Tippett in his most flowing mode and at times to the stutter and anger of Britten in the War Requiem. The brass are splendidly commanding as also is David Wilson-Johnson. It is good to hear both these voices again and especially Harper whose voice serves as both benediction and passionate exhortation.

The sung texts are not provided which is a pity as without the words we lose contact with the detail of Berkeley’s and McEwan’s message. Its broad thrust is however undimmed in a work that has not dated – the music is too strong for that. I would rather like to compare how the passage of years have treated another big piece from those days: The Women of Greenham – if anyone has a CDR copy of that two LP set.

Here are two comparatively modern works leaning on the one hand on protest and on the other on a choral legacy stretching back to Byrd and Tallis.

Rob Barnett

 

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