This is a follow-on from the excellent Secret
Garden disc and presents more of Judith Bingham's choral
music, sung by the BBC Singers, of whom she used to be a member.
Although it is very interesting to hear more of this composer's
work and good to see the greater prominence that this further
release will bring her, Remoter Worlds is - as its name
might suggest - less accessible to listeners new to her work than
the earlier Naxos disc. The music spans quite a range in terms
of date of composition, some being early works revised recently
and others being composed in the last five years.
The first and first tracks are inspired by alpine landscapes
and the echo of mountain valleys. This has been there at in
this recording by the use of the echo of the space in St Paul's
Church, Knightsbridge and by placing the soloists behind the
main body of the choir in the first work. The third piece, Waterlilies,
was commissioned as part of A Garland for Linda, a memorial
of Linda McCartney and is about the healing power of music.
It is inspired particularly by the composer’s experience of
swimming in a warm lake high up in the Alps and her reflections
on the ability of the water-lilies in that lake to survive being
frozen in the winter ice to flower again the following summer.
The second work on this disc, The Shephearde's Calendar
is probably the most accessible and melodically straightforward
piece. It has received widespread critical approval. The work
was commissioned by the Saint Louis Chamber Choir, to whom the
composer was introduced by Richard Rodney Bennett. It is based
on the Somerset folk-song One Man shall Mow my Meadow and
on the poem by Spenser. The movements start with "winter",
progress through "spring" to "autumn". The
second, "spring", movement uses an American puritan
setting of Psalm 23 and is a very beautiful arrangement of those
well-known words. Its sound-world is reminiscent of my favourite
track on her previous disc, The Darkness is No Darkness /
Thou Wilt Keep Him in Perfect Peace.
The other work here to have come widely to notice is the Irish
Tenebrae, which sets the Maundy Thursday responses in the
context of the Irish troubles of the 1970s. It draws parallels
between the themes of violent revenge in both. The poetry of
Yeats recurs, along with the uniquely Irish sound of the bodhran.
It is a work I find admirable rather than comfortable: powerful
and challenging, evocative, ambiguous and never wholly resolved.
Beneath these Alien Stars takes up a similar theme of response to violence and tension. It was written
in response to 9/11 and sets Pioneer Woman by the Mormon
poet Vesta Pierce Crawford. It deploys simple melodies for upper
voices and organ, creating a sense of overwhelming inhospitable
space. Ghost Towns of the American West is also inspired
by American places and events. Again it uses the poetry of Vesta
Pierce Crawford. The commission for the piece was a prize for
winning a choral competition in Utah whence this poet originated.
It sets five of her poems over three movements and again creates
the sense of a vast landscape on which humanity makes only a
small and temporary mark.
Bingham is a talented and interesting composer who as a
singer herself writes naturally and successfully for the voice.
The earlier disc - which I nominated as a Disc of the Year in
2007 - showcased a wider range of her music, including brass
band and organ as well as vocal writing. It included a work
based on a popular hymn and one based on sea shanties. This
disc has depth rather than the breadth of its predecessor and
often tackles difficult subjects.