This substantial piece was composed by British composer
Francis Pott. It was written to celebrate 25 years of the Vasari
Singers under the leadership of Jeremy Backhouse, with funding
from the PRS Foundation. Pott is respected as something of a
leader in the contemporary choral music scene, and has achieved
widespread critical acclaim.
Taking its name from a fourteenth century anonymous
text, this new oratorio sends out a strong humanitarian message,
a plea for peace in a world of conflict and suffering. Central
to the work, Pott’s setting of Psalm 23 was the first of the
twenty nine tracks that make up The Cloud of Unknowing.
It is a response to the Beslan tragedy in September 2004. The
setting is for women’s voices only, echoing contemporary TV
footage of mothers in distress.
The work opens with an organ prologue which is
dark, desolate and searching, reminiscent perhaps of Messiaen’s
work. The vocal entry continues the sombre mood, building towards
the first of many tenor solos (track 4), all of which are sung
skilfully and with musical sensitivity by James Gilchrist. The
role of the soloist is to take on the voice of the human conscience,
struggling against war. This is intense music, indelibly connected
with political issues, and their effect on humanity. It also
represents a crisis of faith within the composer, unsurprising
in a world where so much suffering occurs.
The name of the Vasari Singers has been connected
with excellence in performance, and this recording is no different.
The singing is outstanding throughout, and the organ playing
has a symphonic feel, which lends grandeur and a sense of enormity
to the proceedings.
Pott’s compositional style is an extension of British
twentieth century tradition, having resonances in style with
Walton and Elgar. One cannot help but think of Britten’s War
Requiem as a precursor to this work. Using texts from a
variety of sources, including Blake, the Psalms and war poets,
the message is clear and moving, at the very least stirring
the listener into thought and perhaps even as far as action.
This is intoxicating and dramatic music with an inner
strength and determined convictions. The performance here is stunning,
and the production values match. This recording featured in MusicWeb's
of the Year for 2007, and deservedly so.
see also Review
by John Quinn