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Recordings of the Month

July 2022

John Luther Adams Houses of the Wind
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Houses of the Wind

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June 2022

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CD: AmazonUK
Download: Classicsonline

Scotland At Night
Choral settings of Scottish poetry from Robert Burns to Alexander McCall Smith
Traditional (arr. John Powell)
Dream Angus
Tom CUNNINGHAM (b.1946)
Scotland at Night
Arvo PÄRT (b.1935)
My Heart’s in the Highlands
James MACMILLAN (b.1959)
So Deep, The Gallant Weaver
Howard SKEMPTON (b.1947)
Address to Edinburgh
Tom CUNNINGHAM (b.1946)
The Painter’s Eye
Ronald STEVENSON (b.1928)
A mediaeval Scottish Triptych
Traditional (arr. Mike Brewer)
Ye Banks and Braes
John HEARNE (b.1937)
The Seagull
Beth Mackay (mezzo) Michael Bradley (baritone) Lisa Swane (soprano)
Thomas Laing-Reilly (organ)
Laudibus/Mike Brewer
rec. 3-5 January 2009, Colinton Parish Church
premiere recordings except Pärt, MacMillan, Hearne
DELPHIAN DCD34060 [64:17] 
Experience Classicsonline

What a joy! Bravo Delphian! This is a superbly sung and recorded disc of ravishing music, ranging from the granitic mediaeval triptych of Ronald Stevenson to the honeyed close harmonies of Tom Cunningham’s two cycles - ‘Scotland at Night’ and ‘The Painter’s Eye’. It’s an entertainment that succeeds in presenting something of Scotland without a trace of the ubiquitous tartan.

The music is sung by the choir ‘Laudibus’, one of the best choirs I have heard in years. The felicities of the performance faithfully and expertly reproduced on this disc. What we have across approaching 65 minutes is a collaboration between composers, choir and director and the writer/poet Alexander McCall Smith. The twin themes of Scotland and night are expressed in the delightfully idiosyncratic verses of the poet McCall Smith as well as the more familiar Burns. ‘Serendipities’ - the description is that of the writer of the perceptive liner-notes. Serendipities abound in such delightful inventions as a ‘village hall dance set to the music of a reel’. Raeburn’s minister glides abstractedly to the strains of ‘Les Patineurs’. Also glimpsed are: ‘the sudden sunburst of a Shetland summer’ and the wriggle of trout tails in a highland tarn’ - all poetic images captured in music that is immediately appealing. The two sequences by McCall Smith and the Edinburgh composer Tom Cunningham were the inspirational impetus for the collection.

Apart from the strangely effective setting of ‘My Heart’s in the Highlands’ for counter-tenor by Arvo Pärt, recalling the tracker sounds of an ancient country organ, the further choice falls upon two of Scotland’s foremost composers - Stevenson and MacMillan. Stevenson’s powerful triptych is a compelling setting of the oldest known poetry in Scotland. ‘Qwhan Alexander our kynge was Dede’ and the paean ‘Fredome’ - the very word is “ thundered like bells first tolling then pealing” (The description is that of James Reid Baxter in his essay on Stevenson’s choral music in ‘Ronald Stevenson - a Symposium’ edited by Colin Scott-Sutherland (Toccata Press 2005)) - frame the central lament and its agonised and impassioned cries of ‘Allace’. 

MacMillan also laments in a setting of ‘My love is like a red red rose’ (under the title ‘So Deep’) with its spectral and misty unresolved harmony. His setting of ‘The Gallant Weaver’ is a small masterpiece of choral writing - a quasi-psalm tune of his own devising threaded (‘woven’?) through a complex tapestry of sound recalling the precentor and congregation of the Highland church.

The magical opening of the disc - a setting by John Powell of ‘Dream Angus’ and the concluding mirage of the crying gulls - a masterly touch of the actual gulls’ cries and the lapping of water - encompass aspects of Scotland epitomised in the nostalgia that is its characteristic voice.

Colin Scott-Sutherland

see also review by John Quinn


















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