CROSSE (b. 1937) Purgatory- Opera in One
Act (1966) [39:34]
A Boy: Peter Bodenham, (tenor)
An Old Man - Glenville Hargreaves, (baritone)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Northern
College of Music/Michael Lankester
rec. February, August 1974, RNCM, Manchester.
first issued on LP in association with
the British Council on LP ARGO ZRG818
LYRITA SRCD.313 [39:34]
Hot on the heels of
Lyrita’s generous and expert pairing
of Crosse’sAriadnefor oboe and orchestra and the major
Three Choirs work Changescomes this CD single with a price
to match. This is the second CD single
from the recent Lyrita revival: the
other being Joubert’s
the first and by report the most brilliant
of his sequence of operas. These included
The Grace of Todd (1967) in one
act with words by David Rudkin. The
Story of Vasco (1970) is in three
acts and is to a libretto by Ted Hughes.
To these must be added the children’s
nativity opera Holly from the Bongs
and the ‘entertainment’ Wheel
of the World.
The libretto of Purgatory
– a one-acter - is by the composer
after the 1938 play by W.B. Yeats (1865-1939).
It seems that Crosse has used the play
almost wholesale. The story is, in very
broad outline, an oppressive tale locked
into an eternal cycle of death and doom
from which the characters can find no
escape. Even the peace of the final
segment calls for divine intervention
to break the incessantly vicious circle;
it lays no claim that the Divinity has
responded although it might well be
implicit in the music.
The brusque chatter
and thud of the opening and the precedence
given to the drums speak of frenetic
forces beyond the characters’ control.
Resonating and statuesque percussion
plays a signature role throughout this
score – recalling the sound of Noh plays.
The woodwind parts too have a special
and inventive savour as can be heard
at the start of tr. 7 which, as it gets
under way, sounds increasingly like
the model for Ligeti’s much later opera
Le Grand Macabre. Crosse idolised
Britten and speaks warmly of The
Turn of the Screw (1954) and Curlew
River (1964) although to my ears
Crosse here irradiates his writing with
a measure of yielding humanity. You
can hear this, for example, in the silvery
wailing benediction of the chorus which
sounds more like Howells or Vaughan
Williams than anything more mordant.
The recording is exemplary with the
many crucially soloistic tendrils of
the score registering with all the impact
of individuality. Stereo separation
is satisfyingly well defined. It is
sung, spoken and hoarsely whispered
with great accomplishment and unerring
concentration by Bodenham and Hargreaves.
Most impressive above all is the final
sequence of almost 8 minutes – one fifth
of the score – where we seem to find
summation. This is achieved in writing
that is masterly in its remorseless
and ineluctable sense of inevitability.
This is comparable in effect with Mahler’s
famous Abschied and the long
epilogic farewells in Pettersson’s Seventh
Symphony and Bax’s Third and Sixth.
That apart this succinct opera stands
somewhere between Vaughan Williams’
Riders to the Sea and Berg’s
Lulu or Wozzeck. One can
imagine it being directed to stunningly
bleak effect by Ingmar Bergman.
commissioned by the BBC for television
broadcast and for performance at the
Cheltenham Festival. Along with the
premiere of The Grace of Todd
it was revived at the Aldeburgh Festival
The sung text is printed
in full in the booklet which is good
news. The liner-notes - which are in
English only - are models of their sort
and are by Calum MacDonald. As has long
been typical of the label the text is
in light olive green against white.
Legibility can be a challenge.
This edgy, ruthless,
creepy and dissonant little two-hander
is presented to best advantage. One
cannot imagine needing another recording
after this despite its three decades’
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