long last Malcolm Williamson’s music is being given a chance.
How refreshing to find it on Naxos,
at a price within everyone’s budget and performed so superbly
by one of the country’s best choirs and choral directors,
who over the years have made a specialism of contemporary
music. It is also a joy that they have chosen well from Williamson’s
quite large folio of choral works in what is a prolific and
perhaps uneven output.
disc opens impressively with a work which I have always yearned
to hear: the Symphony for Voices written when the composer
was about thirty. At this point I need to say what a huge
disappointment it is that, to quote the CD box, “Naxos regret that we are unable to print
the texts for tracks 1-12”. The only texts provided therefore
are for the Requiem not, incidentally of course, in copyright.
For me, about a third of my enjoyment has been lost due to
lack of texts, despite the fact that it would be unfair to
criticize the efforts made by the choir in the diction department.
The acoustic of Charterhouse
School does not always help, especially in
forte passages. This means that James McCauley’s wonderful
text cannot be fully appreciated.
cannot understand why Tennyson’s words for ‘Love, the sentinel’
could not be printed. The text is from his huge poem ‘In Memoriam’,
try as I might however, I could not find the relevant passage
in my (Penguin) Tennyson edition. Is there anyone out there
who can point me in the right direction?
worse is the fact that Edith Sitwell's words for the wonderful
‘English Eccentrics’ Suite are not available. The pace of
the music is sometimes such that much is lost. Having got
all of that off my chest I can now move on.
why a ‘Symphony for Voices’, especially in the light of the
fact that the first movement is for a solo alto - the beautifully-toned
Kathryn Cook? Well, two reasons: the developmental way the
material is constructed, particularly in movement five, the
longest one, called ‘New Guinea’ and secondly in some of the
rich and expressive textures, which in this movement are sometimes
homophonic, sometimes monophonic. The text passes between
the voices imaginatively and movingly, but the mood remains
calm and serene.
same sensation is felt in ‘Love the Sentinel’ with its emphasis
on ‘All is Well’ - also quoted from Julianne of Norwich. This
was written in 1972 at the height of the industrial troubles
and on the death of one Fred Matthews who was killed by a
settings of Edith Sitwell are witty and entertaining. They
were composed, according to Lewis Mitchell in his useful accompanying
essay, “for the basis of an opera formulating in Williamson’s
mind about 1964”. There are six movements including ‘The Quacks’
a kind of Scherzo which weighs in at just one minute.
Requiem ends the disc. It was written for ‘The Joyful Company’
who also sang this moving work at the composer’s funeral.
Their interpretation is surely impossible to improve upon.
There is a sense of landscape here too, more especially an
‘Australian landscape’. How is this achieved?
men’s voices are used at the opening of the work (‘Requiem
aeternam’) intoning in close, dirge-like harmonies and repeating
an Ostinato, like a kind of didgeridoo under a more western,
lush harmony in the upper voices. You might say that the Antipodes
seem to meet Europe.
The textures are not dissimilar in the later ‘Libera me’ where
the bass line is more rhythmic, syncopated and ritualized,
but this is most apt because the ‘Tribe Brother’ commemorated
here was an aboriginal friend. The ‘Kyrie’and ‘Pie Jesu’
sound more like Victorian hymns in their homophonic textures,
and the glorious Sanctus is very much a part of Oxbridge tradition.
The ‘Agnus Dei’ rises to a gorgeous and warm climax and reminds
me of Sir George Dyson and Stanford. However putting stylistic
influences to one side this remains a work that is most satisfying
and demands rehearing and surely more live performances.
advice is buy this disc. All music-lovers can and will find
sustenance in the music offered and there can be no complaints
about the performances or the recording.
by Hubert Culot