Michael HURD (1928-2006)
Pop Cantatas - Words and Music by Michael Hurd
Jonah-Man Jazz - A Cantata-Musical (1966) [10:12]
Prodigal - A Cantata in Popular Style (1989) [13:07]
Rooster Rag - A Cantata in Popular Style (1975) [13:32]
Swingin’ Samson - A Cantata in Popular Style (1973) [11:27]
Captain Coram’s Kids - An “eighteenth century pop cantata” (1987) [18:42]
John Addison (narrator) (Jonah, Coram); Alexander Wells (piano) *(Prodigal, Rooster, Samson)
Members of the New London Orchestra (Jonah, Rooster, Coram)
New London Children’s Choir/Ronald Corp
rec. St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead, London, UK, 8, 21 November 2009. DDD
The sung texts can be accessed at www.naxos.com/libretti/572505.htm
Full tracklisting at end of review
NAXOS 8.572505 [67:02]
The English composer Michael Hurd may well have been best known for his research and writings on Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Mendelssohn, Rutland Boughton, Ivor Gurney and Gerald Finzi. For Boughton he was the sustained induction, compression and ignition for the revival of interest in this composer. This culminated (so far) in the masterly revival last year on Dutton of the opera The Queen of Cornwall. Years before that, in the early 1960s his book on Boughton emerged into a cultural world that had largely doomed Boughton’s music to the scrap-heap of irrelevance. In the late 1970s he presided over a superb illustrated Radio 3 Boughton programme in which whole scenes from the operas were featured alongside Hurd’s knowledgeable commentary. In 1993 he revised the book as Rutland Boughton and the Glastonbury Festivals (OUP, 1993). For Gurney, in addition to the book, there was a series of 6 or 8 very full programmes in which the Gurney songs were played for the first time in years and there were readings by Laurie Lee (1976?).
His worklist includes three full-scale operas: The Widow of Ephesus (1971), The Aspern Papers (1995) and The Night of the Wedding (1998). There are also some ambitious works for choir and orchestra among which are numbered the choral symphony Shepherd's Calendar (1975) and the choral suites Music's Praise (1968) and This Day to Man (1974). His light music has been recorded but split across mixed anthologies rather than systematically addressed:-
Concerto da Camera - English Oboe Concertos ASV WHL 2130
Dance Diversions - British Light Music Discoveries, Vol. 4 ASV WHL 2131
Overture to an Unwritten Comedy - British Light Overtures, Vol. 1 ASV WHL 2133
Sinfonia Concertante - English String Miniatures, Vol. 3 Naxos 8.555069
Three-Piece Suite Over the Water: Music for Recorder and String Orchestra, Dutton CDLX7191
You can read more about Michael Hurd here.
The works on this Naxos disc are lightly jazzy and must have turned generations of children on to concert music. They make confident and fearless communion with West End show-time, dance-band drum-kit and light Radio 2 style middle-of-the-road idioms. Jonah-Man Jazz is irresistibly swung, concise and just sentimental enough to snag its barb on the emotional apparatus. The unison children’s voices, whether in choral or more rarely in solo participation, have impudence and the aplomb to tease out the tension between occasionally grown-up emotions and young minds. They’re all a delight to hear and very much in the same line as the Horovitz and Flanders Captain Noah and his Floating Zoo (Dutton Vocalion CDLF 8120 - King’s Singers) though that post-dates by four or five years the first Hurd work. They all, in any event, make a very pleasing effect: a listening experience as well as a valuable musical workout for young singers and performers. Prodigal is in accustomed easy-going, melodically alluring and simple style with cross-references to the tradition established by the Mike Sammes Singers on Sunday evenings on the BBC Light Programme. The appearance of a speaker over the instruments - sometimes a child, sometimes an adult - aids the narrative arc of each cantata. In Rooster Rag there are solo voices alongside the choir among the torch-singer ballads, Busby Berkeley hoofering and Broadway show clichés. Swingin’ Samson even finds a moment for a nicely wheezing hoe-down. Alexander Wells adeptly plays his key role in delivering the catchy and often touching piano preludes and underpinning figuration. Three of the five pop cantatas follow Biblical stories which at the time might well have been familiar to then contemporary young performers. I wonder if that would be true now. Pity that it was impossible to squeeze on his other pop cantatas including Adam-in-Eden (1981) and Hip-Hip-Horatio (1974).
The present disc is a project financially supported by the British Music Society Charitable Trust Michael Hurd Bequest. The Trust was established to further the appreciation of the composer’s output. I do hope that there will be more Hurd works recorded with support from this source especially the complex ambitious pieces.
The cantata texts are not in the CD booklet but are on the Naxos website.
Interestingly the style even across 23 years is pretty uniform - Hurd had found a successful formula and stuck with it as do Herbert Chappell (Daniel Jazz), Sheila Wilson (Crikey Moses!) and Betty Roe and as did Carey Blyton. This is wittily engaging music-making. It’s a bit old-fashioned perhaps but it transcends a genre which was bound to have found its first marque in schools and children’s choirs.
Corp has worked these many years with children’s choirs. He clearly has a sure judgement which aids in inspiring well-placed confidence in his young charges. It also instils in them an evident pleasure in music-making.
A bit old-fashioned perhaps but evinces real pleasure. Wittily engaging music-making.
Michael HURD (1928-2006) - Pop Cantatas
1. Nineveh city was a city of sin 1:24
2. Jonah, Jonah, listen to me Jonah 1:15
3. I need a boat, man 1:50
4. The waves grew high 1:27
5. When Jonah sank into the sea 2:54
6. We had a wonderful party 1:22
7. Many years ago 1:58
8. I want to go to the big bad city 2:02
9. In the city, free and easy 1:47
10. Down and out in the city 1:34
11. Why did I leave the house of my Father 1:52
12. No use denying 1:12
13. Kill the fatted calf 1:32
14. It was long ago 1:11
15. Once upon a time 2:01
16. Every time I lay an egg 2:34
17. I had a terrible dream! 1:05
18. Oh what a beautiful dream! 1:27
19. Do me a favour 1:21
20. There's a thief in the night 1:46
21. If I were you 1:45
22. Beware! Take care! 1:34
23. Samson was a hero 1:43
24. When Miss Delilah goes a - walkin' 2:21
25. Samson, cut your hair 2:08
26. Clip and clip 1:15
27. Weak as a kitten 1:44
28. Ev'rybody came to the Philistines party 2:16
Captain Coram's Kids
29. Who are these abandoned children 3:49
30. Eight were Duchesses 1:30
31. What is the humming 1:04
32. Take my child 2:33
33. See the Foundlings at work! 2:07
34. I am a little Foundling 2:36
35. Here in the pleasant Court Room 2:18
36. Captain Coram!