Michael HURD (1928-2006)
The Widow of Ephesus – Chamber Opera in One Act (1971) [44:46]
Mr Owen’s Great Endeavour (1990) – Ballad Cantata for Narrator, Mixed Chorus and Small Orchestra (1990) [21:42]
Pippa Goss (soprano) – The Maid; Louise Winter (mezzo) – The Widow; Michael Bundy (baritone) – The Soldier
City of Canterbury Chamber Choir
Orchestra Nova/George Vass
rec. Henry Wood Hall, 8-9 Oct 2010. DDD
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7269 [67:01]

Michael Hurd first came to my attention - and not as a composer - in my twenties. I chanced upon a copy of his Boughton book (1962) in the upstairs shelves of a Dickensian, stair-creaking second-hand bookshop on Park Row above the Colston Hall in Bristol. About a decade later I taped his Radio 3 broadcast of scenes from Boughton's operas. As a composer we have had to wait until his death only five years ago when his bequest to the British Music Society has launched a series of recordings of his music. There were earlier recordings of his on ASV, Naxos and Dutton but nothing on this scale.

His one act chamber opera The Widow of Ephesus is light, frilly, fun and poignant. The idiom is very accessible and the music is often touching as in Why are you crying? (tr. 5). The setting and some of the effect parallels that achieved in another chamber miniature - Barber's masterly A Hand of Bridge. This 45 minute work is laid out here in 17 tracks. The liner-note by Michael Sergeant recounts the story which in skeletal outline involves the chemistry between a young widow, her maid and a soldier. The widow's determination to dedicate herself to her husband's tomb is disrupted by the arrival of the ardent soldier whose virile presence woos her from death and mausoleums. The maid adds variety and accentuates the mood and message. The instrumental writing is perfectly calculated with delectable woodwind writing - also to be heard in New Lanark Dance No. 1 in the accompanying Ballad Cantata. Sample also the Soldier's I Like to Lie in the Sun. It is a delight - almost Sondheim. This is superbly touching writing which will satisfy on either side of the divide between music theatre in the West End and contemporary opera.

Mr Owen's Grand Endeavour is a ballad cantata written for school use but by no means puerile. Hurd who wrote plenty for children (link) never wrote down to children - always children never the devaluation of 'kids' and its implicit dilution of responsibility. The effect is comparable with those pop and jazz cantatas on Naxos. This one takes the form of a Robert Owen's enlightened social and economic experiment at New Lanark Mills. The writing is a delight and the construction often entails an ostinato with a melodic and dramatic pabulum striding above. This is light, lively yet emotionally substantial.

The words can be clearly heard but can be found as a pdf here.

For more information about Michael Hurd please go to www.michaelhurd.co.uk

This disc was made possible by financial support from the British Music Society Charitable Trust (Michael Hurd Bequest). Thank you Michael.

Here is music light on the mental and emotional palate but steadfastly rewarding.

Rob Barnett

Steadfastly rewarding. Lovely!