Although he may best remembered as an orchestral and – more generally – an instrumental composer, Hoddinott nevertheless composed many vocal works. These include his operas, the choral symphony Sinfonia Fidei Op.95
(1977), the short cantata Dives and Lazarus Op.39
(1965) and several song-cycles such as those recorded here, the beautiful Contemplation upon Flowers Op.90
(1976) or the still unrecorded Symphony No.9: A Vision of Eternity
The song-cycle Landscapes (Ynys Môn) Op.87
was written to words by Emyr Humphreys with whom the composer collaborated on several occasions, among others on the scena Roman Spring Op.54
(1968) once available on disc (Argo) and still awaiting hypothetical re-release. The poems deal with different aspects of Anglesey (Ynys Môn) where the poet and his wife lived. They “explore topography, land and seascapes, history and pre-history, the natural world and the inevitable passage of time” (Geraint Lewis). Words and music make for a nicely contrasted sequence of atmospheres also found in an orchestral work composed at about the same time as the song-cycle and sharing the same title (Landscapes Op.86
) inspired by Eryri
(“Snowdonia”), a long poem by T.H. Parry Williams, that was on a now long-deleted LP (RCA RL 25082 published in 1977) that might be worth re-issuing onto CD.
The Silver Hound Op.121
sets words by the late Ursula Vaughan Williams with whom the composer had once collaborated. She devised a cycle of poems in which Man remembers various stages of his life, from his birth to his death. The cycle opens with a prologue (“Memory is my silver hound stalking days that time has hidden … Let my seven selves be found quarry for my silver hound”) but, at the very end, the poet questions whether this is all enough (“Did seven selves make one man whole?”). In this song-cycle Hoddinott opted for a fairly simple vocal line nicely suited to the various implications of the words.
In total contrast One Must Always Have Love Op.152 No.3
is set in a more florid way, at times verging on pure ecstasy achieved through a supple though often high-lying vocal line superbly handled here by Claire Booth. The work was commissioned by the American poet Alice Witherspoon Bliss who had already commissioned another work in memory of her mother: Three Motets
for chorus and organ composed in 1993. She was so taken by the work that she commissioned this cycle for which the composer selected poems by Christina Rosetti, Emily Dickinson, Alice Bliss and W.B. Yeats. The concluding Yeats setting (The Ragged Wood
) is particularly fine.
The 1998 Beaumaris Festival commissioned a work from Hoddinott for Jeremy Huw Williams and piano quintet for which he chose to set parts of Grongar Hill
, a long poem by John Dyer (1700–1758). Geraint Lewis tells us that Grongar Hill was a talismanic location of rural Carmarthenshire but also well-known for the Hoddinotts in their childhood years. Another source of inspiration, though, is linked to John Piper who provided illustrations for a special limited edition of Dyer’s poem - one of them adorns the cover of this release. Some time later, Andrew Matthews-Owen commissioned a new work for soprano, baritone and piano duet – and with Claire Booth, Jeremy Huw Williams, Michael Pollock and himself in mind as performers. The composer thus returned to Dyer’s poem and chose several excerpts that he set as a scena. The singers share the various stanzas, if such there really is, chosen by the composer. They sing together in the opening stanza, the third and the poignant sixth that concludes the work, whereas the baritone has the second and the fifth all for himself and the soprano the animated and rather tense fourth stanza. The fifth section for baritone is particularly remarkable in that it is a typical Hoddinott Scherzo. Towy Landscape Op.190
as a whole is a fairly impressive work on any count; and, although the composer was not aware of it at the time, it was to be his last vocal work. Retrospectively, however, the last lines (“Calmly regardless hastening to the sea/As I thro’life shall reach Eternity”) all the more moving.
Two Songs from Glamorgan
and Six Welsh Folksongs
are comparatively simpler and more straightforward works since they mostly consist in unfussy arrangements of some fairly well-known Welsh folk tunes, all done with taste and often subtlety. The Two Songs from Glamorgan
are sung to Geraint Lewis’ English translations whereas the Six Welsh Folksongs
are sung to Rhiannon Hoddinott’s English translations. The second of the Two Songs
is very fine and has some Housman-ish accents. The Six Welsh Folksongs
are mostly elegiac but Ap Shenkin
stands out as a jolly rumbustious piece of music.
Performances and recording are really very fine indeed. All three singers obviously enjoy the music and their immaculate singing is nicely matched by subtlety and nuance when required. I must also single-out Geraint Lewis’s informative and detailed notes.
Hoddinott’s music was once well served in terms of commercial recordings. Many of them have gone out of the catalogue but a number of them have resurfaced on Lyrita; but this well-filled release is the first recent disc entirely devoted to his music and, as such, is a most welcome addition to Hoddinott’s discography, the more so that the composer’s vocal music has not been extensively explored so far.